Wikis Increasingly Trusted as a Source of Technical Documentation

For the last couple of years, I have been evangelizing the potential use of WikiWiki as a documentation delivery and collaborative content development platform for Microsoft product documentation. To date, there are no official DocWikis for Microsoft docsets. A programmer/writer in Microsoft's Developer Division until last December, when I joined the organization that owns Gotdotnet, MSDN, Channel9, and among others, I yearned for the ability to share my in-process help topics, whitepapers, and code samples with real, live developers and IT Pros like you. I yearned for immediate and focused feedback from highly technical readers who were *in context*, trying to solve a problem for which I had the answers but not necessarily in finished form. Given contextual and timely feedback, I would have been able to optimize the utility of the technical documentation I wrote and work much more efficiently. I could have avoid multiple re-writes and lessened the time between writing and technical reviews. Most importantly, a DocWiki would have allowed me to get answers to customers quickly.

Alas, it seems that an official Microsoft documentation Wiki with the breadth and human vibrancy of Wikipedia is a long time in coming. However, unofficial, grassroots Wikis (a user-editable collection of Web pages) are much closer to fruition. This morning, I approved an article submission for Gotdotnet, Full-text searching with iFilters by Klaus Salchner, which resides on iFilters allow you to easily enable your end users to directly search any kind of file-based content across the Windows file system, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, Exchange Server, and Indexing Server. You can search everything from PDFs stored as bLobs in SQL Server to XML files in Windows. If you create your own proprietary file type, .ksp for example, you must implement your own iFilter if you want developers to be able to enable full-text search for it when stored in one of the aforementioned repositories. It is a miraculous technology, imho, and one which is near and dear to my heart. But I digress.

DocWikis... Halfway down the article on iFilter, you run into this: "The "Channel9 Wiki" lists the iFilter components which are presnt out of the box."

This is not the first reference I've seen to the Channel9 wiki in third party help content for Microsoft products. It will not be the last. And while it will be a long time before you see a reference to an online DocWiki topic in a Microsoft-written MSDN article, the reference to "Channel9 Wiki" in this whitepaper is of singular importance, in this place and at this time. Why?

From experience, I know that Klaus shed blood, sweat, and tears to get this article j-u-s-t--r-i-g-h-t. He spent hours vetting it for technical accuracy (I'd guesstimate 30-40). He checked his links and checked them again. He cross-checked the authenticity of authorship of and double-checked the accuracy of every fact in every article he linked to. And then, then--and this is very exciting--he pointed to a Wiki topic on Channel9 that you me, and anyone else can edit. That takes in the community and faith in the very notion of collaborative authoring.

The WikiTopic to which Klaus points in his article is quietly becoming the de facto online point of reference for Microsoft iFilters. This unofficial topic will be updated and improved with much greater frequency and speed than its official counterpart on MSDN. For that, it is an immensely valuable resource for developers. A quick MSN Search of "ifilter +channel9" yields references to a host of third-party and blog links to this same topic (238 in all) from the likes of Mark Harrison, Tim Heuer and Channel9 is a sub-domain of MSDN. However, when you search for "iFilter +MSDN", the first link is to the official iFilter topic and the second link is guessed it!...the Channel9 WikiTopic. If you are searching for help about iFilter or any other Microsoft technologies, the combination of an official MSDN help topic and an unofficial community-developed WikiTopic is a killer combination.

The wind is blowing in the direction of collaborative online documentation. I can't tell you how fast the wind blows or from exactly which direction it comes but sails are luffing and the fleet is about to move.

[Update: I retract my previous assertion that it will be a long time before you see a reference to an online WikiTopic in "official" Microsoft documentation. The core MSN Search docs link to the Channel9 iFilter topic!]

Comments (3)

  1. Travis Owens says:

    Microsoft tech Wikis could definetly be a pandora’s box scenario. I mean there are so many anti-MS zealots, keeping an eye on editing abuse (passport user registration would be a must) but we must always err on the side of bigger & better ideas, and not lean towards FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) otherwise we’ll never advance.

    I’ll have to admit when I first heard about Wiki I had no faith in it because of the abuse possibility. But some sources, such as WikiPedia, have turned my faith arounh 360′.

    Blogging and Wiki is, imho, the greatest thing that’s happened to information since the web inself.

  2. Steve says:

    I agree that Pandora and her box will show up when MS enables audience-participation on their pages, but I don’t fear it.

    I’m sure there are lawyers waiting in the wings to take litigation calls, and many trolls will do as trolls do.

    But many of the /.-isms are mitigatable, and the upside to MS Customers from MS enabling such justice for its content is huge.

    I can’t wait for that time to come.

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