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It's a Wicked, Wikied World
2006, Q4 (February 23, 2007)
By Doug Dow, STC Lone Star Community Senior Member and Newsletter Editor
Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the October 2006 issue (volume 23, number 2) of Technically Write, the newsletter of the STC Lone Star Community.

Doug Dow
Doug Dow

Just when you've decided a blog would be just the thing to host your software tips, frequently-asked questions, technical documents, and the like, along comes the Wiki. Adapted from the Hawaiian "Wiki-wiki" for "fast," wikis not only let you post comments to the content, as blogs do, but you can also change or edit the content interactively. WikiPedia is the most common example.

After handing me more than a hundred "how to" procedures one day, management expected me to place them in the user manual. Covering three releases of our software, each highly redundant procedure covered how to assign a specific function to a function key. Since the content differs little between releases, I quickly single-sourced it into thirty-five source documents, but that was still too much for our already bulky manuals.

Without knowing what I was getting into, I asked management to consider some other delivery mechanism. Fresh from the 53rd STC Convention in Las Vegas, I played with PmWiki, thanks to Lisa Swallow and her magnificent resources (http://www.lisaswallow.com/STC/wiki/pmwiki.php)[1]. It was easy to type in text, using leading exclamation points to indicate headings, pound signs (#) to show numbered lists, and asterisks (*) to show bulleted lists. Wikis, I concluded, support only basic text formatting, and none of the formatting resembled HTML or anything I'd seen before. How would I possibly get my Word output into Wiki format?

Something Wikied this way comes...

What I needed was an option in Word to "save as Wiki," but that option does not yet exist. (And, based on what I've seen, it won't be around soon, as we'll see below.) But if you type that phrase into Google, as I did, you get some interesting results. For the purpose of turning Word output into Wiki format, the best I found is WikiMedia (http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Word_macros). There, I found several conversion programs.

Insensitive to the differences among wiki sites, sources, and programs, I'd convert a simplified Word test document, paste it into PmWiki, and become perplexed at the results. Although the lists translated somewhat normally, what were all those equal signs (=) doing around my heading text? Why did I have to go in and change things in the wiki?

After many hours of playing with various conversion tools, and even a Word template file, it took an examination of the code to realize that wikis - and wiki converters - are not all equal. With some 100 open-source wiki programs and hosts out there, there is no standard for paragraph markup. This is most apparent with headings. WikiMatrix (http://www.wikimatrix.org) lets you perform an interactive comparison of as many wiki technologies as you dare to select. Eight of the most popular use the following variants in regard to headings.

(Program name is followed by programming language (in parens).)
Comparing wiki syntax
Comparing wiki syntax. Click for full-size image.

Oh, those weird macro names meant something...

The various programs and Word macros, with names like Word2Wiki, Word2TWiki, and Word2MediaWiki, are not simply ever-improved versions of the same thing. They translate in very specific ways to very specific programs. (You've found out in five minutes what it took me nearly a week to discover.)

So, while all these wikis provide playpens in which you can experiment with formatting, all playpens are not equal. I recommend visiting WikiMatrix to find out the differences among wikis. Then, find out if there is a tool that will transport you from Word to the wiki of your choice. Because, if you choose a wiki that does not have macro support, your wiki may not be so wiki-wiki.

1. Website unavailable at time of publication.

Doug can be reached at newsletter at stc-dfw dot orgEnd of article.

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