Thunder Data Systems

TDS Patrick

PmWiki® — Design Goals and Target Audience

Striking a Balance Between Authors and Administrators

PmWiki® allows for complete editing control of web sites without any knowledge of HTML. Designed by Dr. Patrick Michaud, PmWiki® is his version of one of several wiki softwares available. Issued under the GNU Geneal Public License, the software can be used and modified for personal or organizational use.

What exactly is PmWiki®? Learn basic web editing information at this site or visit PmWiki® for more details.

Dr. Michaud has spent a considerable amount of time designing his software for use by web contributors who lack knowledge of HTML while allowing for custom configuration for administrators. When asked about his target audience and design goals, Patrick had this to say:

I think I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating–I think of PmWiki® in terms of two audiences: “wiki users” are the folks who generate web content (and soon will be able to upload attachments), and “wiki admininistrators” are the folks who install and setup PmWiki®. In some senses it could be claimed that as the primary developer of PmWiki® I should only have wiki administrators as my target audience, and wiki users are the target audience for the administrators. But what really makes PmWiki® useful to wiki administrators is that I’ve put a lot consideration into creating a tool that is usable by wiki users, so I have to keep the needs of both audiences in mind as I’m creating PmWiki®.

Within the “wiki users” audience I see that there are “naive authors” and “experienced authors”. “Naive authors” are the folks who use wiki to generate content but probably know next-to-nothing about HTML, much less style sheets or PHP or the like. Naive authors are easily discouraged from generating web content if they have to wade through markup text that has lots of funny and cryptic symbols in them. I believe that if you want a site with lots of contributors, you have to be very careful not to do things that would cause this group to be excluded.

“Experienced authors” are the folks who know a lot about HTML and could write their content as HTML, but have chosen to use wiki because of its other useful features (ease of linking, collaboration, ease of updates, revision histories, etc.) or because they want to collaborate with naive authors. Experienced authors usually don’t have any problem with documents with lots of ugly markup in them; after all, they already know HTML. However, experienced authors are sometimes frustrated with wiki because it doesn’t have markup that would let them do something they know they can do in HTML (e.g., tables, stylesheets, colored text, etc.). And, they sometimes have difficulty understanding why naﶥ authors would turn away from documents that have lots of markup sequences in them.

For the “wiki administrator” audience–the folks who install and may want to customize PmWiki®–their backgrounds and goals are often quite diverse. PmWiki® is designed so that it can be installed and and be useful with minimal HTML/PHP knowledge, but it doesn’t restrict people who know HTML/PHP from doing some fairly complex things. For one, PmWiki® allows a site administrator to build-in markup sequences and features customized to his/her needs (and the needs of his/her audiences).

Thus, to get back to your question about what direction I hope to go in the future regarding ease of setup for truly naive, I’m going to continue to implement features that are consistent with the PmWikiPhilosophies. In this, I work hard to keep naive authors in mind as new features are proposed and implemented, often to the frustration of expert authors and wiki administrators who want PmWiki® to do bigger and better things. To these latter groups it often seems that naive authors can simply not use the complex markup sequences, but if complex/ugly markup sequences are available then they will eventually be used by someone, and once used they become a barrier to the naive authors. So, if I see that something could become a barrier to a naive author I don’t include it in base PmWiki®, but instead find ways to let wiki administrators include it as a local customization.

Beyond this, ease of setup is one of PmWiki’s® main “selling points” (and PmWiki® Philosophy #5). I’m continually told by lots of people at how pleasantly surprised they are about how easy it is to install and configure PmWiki®. There’s no question that I’ll be adding more features to ease the customization of PmWiki®–right now the feature that PmWiki® most desperately needs is good documentation about the various ways it can be customized by wiki administrators. That will probably be one of my highest development priorities over the next couple of weeks, and it’s a big job because there are so many customization options available.