Personal Wikis

My tutorial for creating your own

I've found my personal wiki to be an incredible tool for organizing my life, so I made a few pages to explain the benefits of using it, give instructions for setting your own up, and list a few tips and tricks that have been made the experience even better for me!

What is a wiki?

First off, what exactly is a wiki? People know Wikipedia, WikiHow, and maybe things like Wiktionary or special wikis for specific topics. They are a type of website with a page for each topic, and often with links between pages. What differentiates a wiki from a normal web site is that they are easily editable from the web site itself, and are often editable by people other than just the wiki's owner. For example, in the case of Wikipedia, anyone can add or edit pages to add information, which is the primary reason for Wikipedia's massive success.

Benefits of a Personal Wiki

In the time I've been using mine, I've found many benefits:

  • It's accessible anywhere, from any computer, phone, or tablet
  • It makes sharing notes or collaborating on notes very easy (However, for document collaboration, I still usually favor Google Docs)
  • You can nest pages in namespaces, which are like folders, to group related pages together (like notes from books you've read, or pages about a project you're working on).
  • You can use it to compile knowledge you gain from researching different topics, so you never have to do the research them again. We all have those topics that we Google once every month or so to remind ourselves how to do something.
  • The ease with which you can add and edit pages makes it very conducive to quick updates.
    • Google Docs can take 15+ seconds to navigate to because you normally get to everything through the home page first. Evernote takes some time to launch and you need to find the page you want to edit.
    • With my wiki, navigating to a page automatically creates it. My flow for updating/adding a page is to navigate to w/whatever/page/i/want, press e to edit, and I'm ready to edit. (On my laptop, I have w aliased to wiki.shroba.io)
  • It works great as the single source of my personal notes. I used to have important notes scattered through Google Docs, the macOS Notes app, Evernote, my whiteboard, and a physical notebook.

Dokuwiki

There are many different wiki software options out there, and per a friend's suggestion, I chose dokuwiki.

  • It is used by many people around the world, so most bugs have been worked out
  • There are hundreds (thousands?) of third-party plugins that add all sorts of functionality you may want, like page listings in the sidebar, ability to easily move pages, or keyboard shortcuts. View the full list of plugins I use here.
  • You can choose from many themes for your site and customize them at will. For my site, I use the Bootstrap3 theme.

Access Controls

Dokuwiki makes it easy to control who can read and write pages and namespaces (aka directories) in the wiki. In my personal wiki, I have most pages only editable by me, but many are readable by anyone. Things like notes about books I read, packing lists for trips, and notes from talks I attend I make readable by anyone, since I have no reason to keep those private, and it makes it easy to share things with friends. On the other hand, I make pages like project ideas, concerns about careers and companies, and other personal things viewable only by me. In the case of things like group projects, I can also make certain pages editable by people other than me.

Setup

Convinced yet? Check out my setup page for a full tutorial! I assume you know some bash and I mostly just link to existing tutorials for each step. I also include some notes of my own about what worked best for me, and what modifications I had to make when things in the tutorials didn't work.

Shoutout

Lastly, I want to give a shoutout to my friend Ivan Smirnov. He's the one who gave me the initial idea to create a personal wiki, and was a big help in setting mine up. Check out his for even more tips!