Book review of “WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit”

I’ve just finished reading Alan J. Porter‘s new book, WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit. I heartily recommended this book to anyone who wants to know more about wikis. In fact, you’ll enjoy it even if you’re already intimately acquainted with wikis.

The content and message of the book grow organically, rather like its subject. To get the full benefit of Alan’s experience and the full impact of his message, you need to sit down with a beverage or brew, start from the beginning and read through to the end. That’s easy and rewarding to do. The book has a comfortable conversational style. Alan introduces a topic or concept in one chapter, then builds on it in subsequent chapters. By the time you reach the end of the book, you’ve absorbed Alan’s experience of and research into wikis. You’ve also examined his useful examples, mulled over his anecdotes and chuckled at Douglas Potter’s apt drawings.

What’s it about?

The book takes you through all stages of wiki ownership, from deciding whether you need a wiki, through choosing the right one, encouraging people to use it, designing it, then structuring and restructuring it as it gains more content.

Throughout the book are ideas for encouraging people to use the wiki and to contribute content to it.

"WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit" - drawing by Douglas Potter

Chapter 2 "Defining the Wiki" - drawing by Douglas Potter

First impressions

I love the cover of the book. Comfortable. Alternative. Man at work.

I also love the drawings by Douglas Potter. They are so cleverly suited to the style of the book. This one is my favourite, from the cover plate of chapter 2, Defining the Wiki.


The case studies at the back of the book are particularly interesting. There are five of them. For me, these stand out:

  • Case study 5 tells the story of the book itself. The author, editor, reviewers and publisher all worked together on the book, using a wiki (PBworks) as their collaboration platform. Now that’s dogfooding the message of a book. 😉 The case study outlines the process they followed and the benefits the publisher saw in using a wiki for this purpose. Alan also gives a foretaste of the process earlier in the book, under the heading Doing it Ourselves (page 12).
  • Case study 3 tells how a company used a wiki to gain ISO 9000 certification in a very short period of time.
  • Case study 4 is Gina Fevrier‘s story of adopting Confluence wiki to engage users in her company’s document content strategy.

Some sections of the book that stood out for me:

  • User-Generated Content (pages 82-4). This section  is a must-read, for its excellent summary of the value of user-generated content, and for its anecdotes.
  • Why Would You Need to Use a Wiki? (pages 6-11). This section has a good, concise list of a wiki’s uses, based on a real-life example of a project that could have used one but didn’t.
  • Appendix D: Notes on Popular Wikis (pages 141-6). The summaries of the features and intended audiences of each wiki are concise and useful. The wikis covered are: Confluence, DokuWiki, MediaWiki, MindTouch (the erstwhile DekiWiki), MoinMoin, MyWiki, PBworks, ProjectForum, TiddlyWiki, TikiWiki and Trac.

Interesting titbits:

  • Under the heading Aren’t Wikis Inaccurate? (page 4) Alan says: “Studies have shown that the number of mistakes per article on Wikipedia is actually lower than in the venerated print Encyclopedia Britannica”.

My favourite anecdote:

  • The one about tennis balls in the server room (page 61). I won’t repeat it, because it’s best to read it in context. 🙂

In conclusion

Sit back, put your feet up, tilt back your hat and get reading. Your wiki will take root as you go.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 7 December 2010, in technical writing, wiki and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. We’re still piloting the Confluence wiki for online help (converting from Flare and RoboHelp) and working out hosting, anonymous or SSO, and other details before we launch. Here’s my most recent post about the project (July, 2010) And thanks, Sarah, for all of your help in getting us this far!


  2. Thanks for the entertaining review Sarah. Glad that you enjoyed the finished book so much, and you found Doug’s cartoons as entertaining as I did.

  3. building this book as a wiki was definitely an interesting experience which helped open my eyes to just how versatile a wiki can be.

    alan definitely deserves kudos for this knowledge he’s sharing with the world at large!

  4. We are in the process of testing various plugins in confluence wiki to suit our requirements in terms of automation of dashboards, project management and quality reporting through confluence. This information is helpful.

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