Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blogs and wikis - Free tools for publishing information

I really like both blogs wikis. Both of them have a main purpose, but they are easily configurable and can serve additional purposes as well. Here's how I see things and use both of them in different ways:

Blogs: They allow everyone to have a free personal page, which can be easily modified thanks to the wealth of free templates. No need to know about HTML, no need to think about the layout; just experiment with various templates and start entering your own information. For me, a blog provides a virtual space not only to describe some of the most important days of work and achievements, but it also allows me to create my virtual web site, collecting all related information such as my profiles in various professional networking websites, such as Research Gate & Mendeley, my presentations at SlideShare, my latest tweets etc. All my professional information in just one place! I used to keep a diary when I was younger, so it came rather naturally to me.

Another use of blogs is for creating "websites" or reference sites for various events, where creating a new website is not an option. For example, when a project organizes a Workshop or a Conference, all information (such as concept, venue, directions, photo gallery and even submissions in case there is a call for papers or presentations) can be easily hosted in a blog. I have created myself a blog for the controlled experiment of VOA3R project, which includes a wealth of information about the event, including the submitted papers.

Wikis: I am not really familiar with wikis, as I only recently was introduced to a wiki. As I see it, it can partially substitute a website, in the way that it consists of a set of sub-pages, organized and interlinked, providing the information we need in a simple but effective way. A wiki needs some previous knowledge and experience, even when using Mediawiki, which provides a more user-friendly interface. However, it is not as simple as working with a blog, where everything is almost automatically done.

In our case, a wiki temporarily substitutes the website of the company (which is currently under construction). It consists of a number of clearly defined sections such as information about the company, the people, the projects and events. In addition, new wiki pages can be dedicated to specific events, providing information about the events, access to related files etc. See for example the Wiki page for the CerOrganic European Conference.

What I see as a main difference between a wiki and a blog for an event, is the fact that in case a wiki is used for this purpose, it still remains a part of the company's activities so it can be an additional part of an existing set of activities. A wiki should be installed on a server, so this may cause some additional work/expenses. On the other hand, a blog is more individual and autonomous and looks more appealing. In addition, it is usually already installed on a central server, so only a registration is required.

Image taken from keywordy.net
Both tools provide a low cost/free way to present information, avoiding a number of issues such as hosting/servers/reservation of domain names/cost etc. They are easy to use, flexible and remain available without time limitations. Just think of how many times you have tried to reach a website of a project/conference a few years after its end and you ended up with a 404 - Not found error message, because the funding was over...so, when sustainability is an issue, choosing a free option may be the best in some cases, as long as you are willing to make some compromises mostly in terms of appearance ;-)