Another summer, another wiki! UN INSTRAW Gender Training Wiki. INSTRAW Tech, Take 3.

In what’s becoming an annual tradition, Anna and I have launched another Wiki within the United Nations, the UN INSTRAW Gender Training Wiki! This is intended as a resource for a wide community, and features such technical nicieties like integrated mapping and calendaring of all articles. I encourage you to check it out for yourself, but here’s a run down of how it went down, from my perspective.

The Conceptual Switch. This Wiki brought its own share of new challenges, as well as reinforcing lessons from the previous one. At the start, the success of the WaterWiki was convincing enough to pursue the Wiki route for gathering Gender Training resources (rather than the traditional Word Document favored at INSTRAW!) .. even if they didn’t quite know what they were in for with the Wiki. They also like maps, which have an even better integration in this wiki (more below). Anna organized two training sessions for the entire organization, introducing the concept and the techniques necessary for using it. We quickly simplified the interface of the wiki, and tried our best to bypass the nastiness of wikitext.

The biggest difference is the emphasis on connecting with external organizations, and multilanguage support. The WaterWiki was designed as a knowledge management tool within the organization; the Gender Training Wiki is intended for a wide community of organizations to access and share information on Gender Training organizations, events, and materials. It’s open for anyone to edit. And along with that, this Wiki, as it grows, will require ever greater effort to garden and organize the contributions .. an organizational effort that still needs to be met. Unexpectedly, the first external contributors to the wiki were men, listing gender sensitivity training for men. They intend to pursue the Wiki route with other projects, for instance one focused on Gender and Political Participation, and the MediaWiki is all set up in a farm mode .. this represents a fundamental shift in how INSTRAW approaches its mission.

Internationalization. INSTRAW is committed to supporting English, French and Spanish. But rather than launching three seperate Wikis, ala Wikipedia, we wanted to avoid duplication and patchy data and stick with one multilingual Wiki. The ideal solution would have different versions on each article in multiple languages; a user would be presented with the article in their preferred language, if available, with links to other languages, and default to English if not available. With limited time, I was unable to build an extension to do this, but think it’s possible. As a stop gap, all three languages are presented on the main page, and Spanish and French articles are categorized and automatically collected.

The structural text is translated, as per normal, but some of the extra features we introduced weren’t easily translated. Breadcrumbs, which has just a little traction as a concept in User Interface design, was completely nonsensical in direct translation to migajas de pan. Its meaning is only clear via a cultural reference to a German fairy tale, that’s not commonly known among native Spanish speakers.

Mapping and Calendering. Any page in the wiki can be assigned a location. This is done directly by browsing in a small Google Map, including location lookup with MGeocoder, inserted in the edit page. Rather than the difficult-for-the-novice method of explicitly typing coordinates using wikitext, or simple-but-not-intergrated use of a external service like Placeopedia. The editor never actually sees the wikitext that assigns location and inserts the map .. it’s all preprocessed using hooks, based somewhat on the MediaWiki Google Maps Extension (authored by Evan Miller, who I collaborated with years ago on some worldKit features). All of the geotagged articles are assembled into a GeoRSS feed, and displayed on the main page using MGeoRSS.

Similarly, any page can be assigned a date range; this is especially relevant for timetagging training courses. The interface uses the calendar widget from Yahoo, and all upcoming trainings are automatically collected and listed.

The technical details of the extensions and hacks, used and developed, are all listed for those interested. I haven’t released the new Google Maps Extension or the Calendaring Extension, but could be pursuaded to. I think there’s a lot to this approach, of adding to wiki interface elements besides the text edit box.