Personal wikis were a big fad for productivity geeks for a while, but that seems to have toned down a lot through 2008. Wikis are still incredibly useful, and can make you more productive. You can think of a personal wiki like a bit of a catch-all binder.
Whether you want to manage personal information, use it as a freelance web-worker, or to manage your corporate work, this article will introduce you to a few of the options out there and kickstart you with some ideas for getting productive using your wiki.
Personal Wikis You Can Use
This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you have a favorite wiki, let us know about in the comments section. Here are a few of the popular options. I’ve listed some web-hosted, self-hosted and cross-platform wikis. There are plenty of great desktop apps for each major platform, but we’ll discuss them in another article.
Luminotes is a personal wiki with both free and paid options. The free option allows one user account on your wiki and provides 30mb of storage space. It’s WYSIWYG, so no need to learn a whole new markup language.
Wikispaces offers free public wikis, and private wikis that cost between $5 and $20 a month. For a personal wiki, you’ll usually want private, but $5 is pretty cheap.
@Wiki is completely free and offers WYSIWYG, file importing and multiple authors. If you’re going beyond the traditional personal wiki and using it for team organization, @Wiki allows you to monitor your wiki through RSS feeds.
Wikihost is another free service that provides private and public wiki options.
TiddlyWiki is pretty unique in the field of wikis and if you want simple and minimal, this is the one for you. Your TiddlyWiki wiki will consist of one page, where you append entries and notes. It has a good search feature for wading through the page and finding the right info as your “wiki” gets longer.
Wikidot is another free wiki option. It’s unique feature is AdSense integration, but since clicking on your own ads is against Google’s policies, this isn’t likely to help you much. ;)
MediaWiki—if you’ve got the know-how to get the software that Wikipedia uses running on your computer and the patience to customize it, this may be a good one for you. You’ll need to have a PHP/MySQL server running on your computer, or if you want to use it in multiple locations, on your hosting account.
Getting to Know Wiki Markup
Many of the options provided come with WYSIWYG editors, but others don’t. For instance, if you set up a MediaWiki installation on your local server, you’ll find yourself without one (I believe there are plug-ins that’ll add it, though). WYSIWYG or not, getting to know wiki markup is handy, even if it’s just to troubleshoot pages that just won’t behave.
Fortunately, Wikipedia has an extensive and comprehensive guide on the subject. You’ll want to pay attention to how links are done—internal (inter-wiki) and external links are two different monsters.
Note that not all wikis use the same markup language and you’ll have to see what your selected service is using. It’s a pain to learn a whole bunch of markup languages for the one purpose, so choose carefully and then invest the time in just one. Using a system that adopts the MediaWiki markup language is a good move, since it’s the one you’re most likely to need if other people invite you to participate in their own wikis. Honestly, I wish wikis had just used HTML and perhaps added some extra tags for wiki specific features, but you get what you’re given. Unless you’re a developer.
Got One! Now What?
Now you’ve got your wiki, what can you do with it? There are all sorts of possibilities.
Empty your head—use your wiki to empty your head of thoughts and get them down so you don’t need to worry about them. Insomniac? Try this! This is also a core principle of GTD, so if you’re unhappy with your current method, this could work for you.
Note-taking—Evernote too much for you? Blasphemy! Just kidding—a personal wiki can be a great note-taking app, whether it’s for ideas throughout the day, meetings, or lectures.
Personal Knowledgebase—keep forgetting how that fancy can-opener works? Write the method down in your wiki (no kidding, I once had a can-opener that I kept forgetting how to use). What about moving house? There are a million and one things that need doing then—least of which is the endless list of companies and organizations you need to inform that you’ve changed your address. Get that list completed in your wiki and you can check it off next time you move.
Writer’s Desk—I know a freelance writer who used a wiki as a word processor and client tracker in Internet cafes until she could afford a computer of her own. Unusual, but effective!
Client manager—as I mentioned, my friend didn’t just use the wiki as a word processor, but to keep notes on clients. Keep your client contact details, invoicing dates, project details and past work in a wiki for easy reference.
Joint projects—work on documents collaboratively with colleagues, or a freelancer you’ve teamed up with. It’s not the best collaborative word processor ever, but it’ll get the job done.
Project Management—got a big project from a client or your employer to plan out and execute? Perhaps you’re planning a wedding and need someplace to keep track of all the annoying details and headaches involved (I wish I’d thought of this for my own!). Wikis can be highly effective project managers.