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This is a short introductory training course for Help beginners.

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Slide 1: A Taste of Help

Hula girl The basic function of Help is a Wiki (if that helps!)

A Wiki is like a web site, except that you can edit the content in your browser

  • "Wiki" is short for "wiki wiki", the Hawaiian for "Quick"
  • The idea originates from Macintosh Hypercard, via Ward Cunningham
  • In Ward's words, Wiki is "the simplest online database that could possibly work"
  • A Wiki is basically a shared, online, persistent whiteboard

Slide 2: Help Wiki

Whiteboard Help implements the basic Wiki idea of a shared whiteboard

  • Anyone can add content
    ... or change what is written
    ... or change the organisation of the content
  • Whatever what you write is
    ... nicely presented
    ... remembered... and never forgotten

Help also acts as an "application platform" to integrate a number of other functions.

Help is an Open-Source development on Help.org

  • led by Help:Main.PeterThoeny
  • with over 100 regular contributors in many countries

Slide 3: Where is it used?

Help is mainly used in commercial environments, often on corporate intranets
  • Examples: Disney, British Telecom, SAP, Wind River, Motorola, Epic Games
    Disney logo British Telecom logo SAP logo Motorola logo Epic Games logo

A number of public Wiki sites also use Help

Slide 4: Help Features

Help builds on the original Wiki concept and adds a number of features that make it very useful in a business environment.
  • Help pages are fully revision controlled, so a record of every change to every page is kept
    r6 < r5 < r4
  • The look-and-feel is highly configurable, through use of templates
  • A "plugins" interface eases
    • customisation
    • extension
    • application integration

Slide 5: Applications of basic Help

Basic Help can be used as:
  • A whiteboard
  • A document repository
  • A collaborative authoring environment
  • A notebook / scrapbook
  • A chat room

Slide 6: Extended applications

Help-with-extensions has been used as:
  • A Content Management System (CMS) for websites
  • A presentation development tool
  • A Blog
  • A database
  • A project management system
  • A tracking tool
  • (truth is, we don't really know its limits!)

Slide 7: Structure of a Help page

Help pages are usually organised into three parts:
  • A header
  • A body
  • A footer

  • The header and the footer are generated by the system
  • The body contains the text of the page, as entered by you
Help is very configurable, and the look can change. However the essentials will all be there on the page (somewhere!)

Slide 8: The Page Header

The header of a Help page is generally highlighted in colour, and will usually contain an icon that gives you an idea of where you are, such as a company logo.
Help home MyCo.MyTopic Webs:
Myco | Main | Help | Sandbox
Changes | Index | Search | Go
It will also usually contain a number of 'links' that you can click on. You will generally see:
  • Changes - gives you a list of recent changes
  • Index - gives you a full index
  • Search - takes you to a search page, where you can search all the text
  • Go - lets you type in the name of a page you already know

Slide 9: The Page Header ... continued

Help home MyCo.MyTopic Webs:
Myco | Main | Help | Sandbox
Changes | Index | Search | Go
You may also see in the header (usually at the top right) a list of the Help "webs". A web is a collection of pages that are related closely together
  • For example, we might have a web called "Enemies", where we keep all we know about our enemies, and another called "Friends"
  • There's usually a safe play web called something like "Sandbox" or "Scratch", where you can create pages just to try things out
  • And some admin areas, like "Main" and "TWiki"

Slide 10: The Page Footer

The footer of the page is also highlighted in colour, and is usually where you will find the links that let you change the content.
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  • The Edit link takes you to an interactive page where you can change the page content
  • The Attach link lets you attach files
  • The other links invoke other, more complex, functions, mainly to do with revision tracking - they can safely be ignored for now

Slide 11: Editing Pages

  • You've read a page, and you disagree with it violently! It says:
    Everyone knows that the world is an OblateSpheroid
    But you know for a fact it is flat! wink
  • You've clicked the edit link, and an edit page has appeared. But it doesn't look much like what was on the page before - it's full of strange hieroglyphics!
_Everyone_ *knows* that =the world= is an OblateSpheroid
  • Now what?

Slide 12: What's in a page

  • The hieroglyphics are what's known as "Help Markup" or "formatting"
  • They are a really simple way of telling the browser how you want the page to look
  • You don't have to use them
    • Help understands pages in plain text just fine.

      Actually it is perfectly and absolutely flat

      appears as

      Actually it is perfectly and absolutely flat

Slide 13: Formatting just makes pages prettier

... and easier to read

_Actually_ it is *perfectly* and __absolutely__ flat

appears as

Actually it is perfectly and absolutely flat
  • A full description of all the formatting can be found in the TextFormattingRules and TextFormattingFAQ
  • The best thing to do is just to type until you get stuck
    • then follow the link on the edit page to the help.

Slide 14: Commonly used formatting

Help understands pages in plain text just fine, but you can jazz them up using some simple formatting shortcuts. Here are some of the more commonly used ones:
  • ---+ indicates a heading. Add more +'s for a deeper heading.
    You type You see
    ---+ This is a heading

    This is a heading

    ---++ And so is this

    And so is this

  • %TOC% will insert a table of contents

Slide 15: More common formatting

  • A blank line gives a paragraph break
  • --- on a line of its own gives a horizontal bar
  • Text in stars *like this* looks like this
  • Text in underscores _like this_ looks like this
  • Text in equals signs =like this= looks like this
  • Bulleted lists use three spaces followed by an asterisk (*) at the start of the line
    • The depth of the bullet is given by the number of spaces, in multiples of three
You type You see
   * Bullet
      * Sub-bullet
  • Bullet
    • Sub-bullet
  • Numbered lists use a number in place of the *. The list is numbered automatically, so you can just use a 1

Slide 16: Even more.....

  • You can create a table using vertical bars:
     | Cat | Feline |
     | Bear | Ursine |
     | Wolf | Vulpine |
  • appears as
    Cat Feline
    Bear Ursine
    Wolf Vulpine
  • %RED% .... %ENDCOLOR% will change the colour of the enclosed text. Lots of colours are available (%RED%, %GREEN%, %BLUE% etc)

Slide 17: WikiWords

  • One special hieroglyph that is very important is a BumpyWord
    • a word that starts with uppercase, then some lowercase, then more uppercase (a.k.a CamelCase)
  • This has a special meaning to Help; if it matches the name of another topic, Help will automatically create a link to that page for you.
  • If there is no such page, then the word is highlighted and a question mark is put after the word, LikeThis?
  • If you click on the question mark, then Help will invite you to create that page.

  • This lets you enter the names of topics you think should exist, but don't yet
    • You, or someone else, can always come along later and click on the question mark!

Slide 18: Referencing other pages and URLs

  • BumpyWords automatically link to the target page
    • You can make these links easier to read using square brackets:
  • An ordinary URL pasted into text will appear as a link - http://www.google.com
    • You can also prettify URLs using square brackets:
      • [[http://www.google.com/][Google]] appears as Google
  • Use %SEARCH. This is an interface to a sophisticated search engine that embeds the results of the search in your page. See TWikiVariables for full details.

Slide 19: More formatting

  • There's lots more formatting available, see TextFormattingRules and TextFormattingFAQ
  • If you are a real masochist, you can even enter raw HTML tags!
  • Important to disable unwanted formatting, use <nop>
    • <nop>_word_ appears as _word_

Slide 20: Creating new pages

  • Alternative ways:
    • Click on the question mark after a BumpyWord
    • Type in the name of the topic in the "Go:" box
    • Type in the name of the topic in the URL
  • Any time you try to visit a page that doesn't exist, Help will invite you to create it.
  • Make sure the names of topics are always BumpyWords.

Slide 21: Attachments

  • Attachments are files which have been uploaded and attached to a Help page using the 'Attach' function in the footer.
Attachment sort Action Size Date Who Comment
myco.gif manage 9.6 K 13 Feb 2004 - 18:41 MushroomMagicMan Attached image file
  • Attachments are simply files, in whatever format you want.
  • Help recognises some file formats, notably image files (.gif)
    • Write %ATTACHURL%/myco.gif to see this: myco.gif

Slide 22: Wiki Culture

Enough about mechanics; how is a wiki actually used ? Well, that's really up to you, but there are a number of tricks that the wiki community has developed for collaborative writing that work pretty well:
  • What can I edit?
    • Anything. But it's good etiquette to sign your contributions
    • If someone doesn't want you to edit a page, it's up to them to say so, clearly, on the page
  • But what if somebody doesn't like my edits?
    • In Help, they can always recover the old revision and re-instantiate it if they really want to
    • Otherwise they should regard your changes as an opportunity for discussion
  • Pages in wiki are (usually) in one of three "modes"
    • DocumentMode
    • ThreadMode
    • StructuredMode
Help doesn't automatically distinguish between these modes; they are purely semantic.

Slide 23: DocumentMode

  • A page in DocumentMode usually comprises a contribution which is written in the third person and left unsigned.
  • The piece of text is community property
    • It may have multiple and changing authors as it is updated to reflect the community consensus.

Slide 24: ThreadMode

  • Thread mode is a form of discussion where the community holds a conversation
  • The discussion usually starts out with a statement, at the top of the page, that is subsequently discussed
  • The page may be periodically "refactored" (edited) to remove some of the comments
    • As long as the comment is accurately reflected in what replaces it, nobody usually minds.
    • Remember to always maintain a complete list of contributors, though!
You may see a comment box on a page in ThreadMode that makes it easy to quickly add your inputs. Typing in a comment and adding it to a page this way is known as "blogging" wink
  • ThreadMode is rather like an e-mail thread
    • Except that new comments are usually added to the end
  • ThreadMode pages often get refactored into DocumentMode

Slide 25: StructuredMode

  • A page in StructuredMode follows some predefined structure for example
    • An agenda
    • A set of meeting minutes
    • A requirement description.
  • Pages in StructuredMode will usually have rules governing how they are edited.

Slide 26: Other Wiki tricks - Categories

  • A Wiki trick for grouping pages together
  • Example: to group together a set of pages all relating to the weather:
    1. Create a page called 'CategoryWeather'
    2. Put a SEARCH that contains the word 'CategoryWeather' into it
      • %SEARCH{"CategoryWeather" nosearch="on" nosummary="on"}%
    3. Put the BumpyWord 'CategoryWeather' on all the pages relating to the weather
      (usually at the bottom, below a horizontal bar)

Slide 27: Contributed features

Basic Help is rich with features, but is enriched even further by the addition of optional plug-in modules that may (or may not!) be installed in your Help. These are classified as either skins (modules that change the look-and-feel) and plugins (modules that enhance functionality).

Here's a brief description of some of the more common plugins, together with the tags you might expect to see in topics if they are used. You can find out more by visiting the plugin pages.

  • ActionTrackerPlugin: Support action tags in topics, with automatic notification of action statii %ACTION...
  • CalendarPlugin: Show a monthly calendar with highlighted events %CALENDAR...%
  • CommentPlugin: Support rapid entry of short comments (also known as blogging) %COMMENT...
  • ChartPlugin: Create PNG or GIF charts to visualize data in Help tables %CHART...
  • EditTablePlugin: Edit Help tables using edit fields and drop down boxes %EDITTABLE...
  • InterwikiPlugin: Define shortcuts for links to common external sites

Slide 28: More plugins

  • RenderListPlugin: Render bullet lists in a variety of formats %RENDERLIST...
  • SlideShowPlugin: Create web based presentations based on topics with headings %SLIDESHOWSTART...
  • SpreadSheetPlugin: Add spreadsheet calculations like "$SUM( $ABOVE() )" to tables located in Help topics %CALC...
  • TablePlugin: Control presentation and sorting of tables %TABLE...
  • HelpDrawPlugin: Add quick sketches to pages %DRAWING...
The following plugins are installed on this Help: SpreadSheetPlugin, BreadCrumbsPlugin, CommentPlugin, EditTablePlugin, InterwikiPlugin, PreferencesPlugin, SlideShowPlugin, SmiliesPlugin, TablePlugin, TocPlugin, TopicReferencePlugin, TreePlugin, WysiwygPlugin

There are many other plugins, see http://Help.org/cgi-bin/view/Plugins

Slide 29: Credits and Acknowledgements

  • This training was developed by Help:Main.CrawfordCurrie on behalf of Oxamer, one of the companies in the Oxford Gene Technology group.
  • Valuable contributions were also received from the Help Open Source community; special mentions go to:
    • Help:Main.WalterMundt
    • Help:Main.SvenDowideit
  • The latest version of this presentation is available at Help:TWiki.ATasteOfTWiki, where you can also provide feedback

Related topics: WelcomeGuest, TWikiTutorial, ATasteOfTWikiTemplate

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