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A sticky wiki?
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So, I have a new boss now. She's been having one-on-one meetings with each of her employees this week, just to get to know everyone, and see how they fit into the department. We had our meeting yesterday, and it started off a little something like this...
Boss: So, I've been looking at your resume, and I'm really glad your're here, because you have exactly the skills I think we need at this point.

Me:*Blink*Really? Oh, good.

Well, that takes care of one major source of anxiety involved in getting a new boss: wondering if I was going to have a hard time proving my skills or my value to the department to the new manager. No, it looks like she's entirely prepared to recognize my good qualities.

She also wants all of us to start brainstorming a plan for the direction our department's documentation is going to take. We're supposed to be coming up with our most whacked out, pie-in-the-sky fantasy for what we'd like to do with documentation. Later, we'll have to work out what's actually feasible with the time, money, and other resources we have available, but for now, we're supposed to just dream big.

I dunno. It's hard to get all that pie-in-the-sky. I'd like to get some interactive software tutorials into our online help. I'd like to get more resources made available for technical artwork. I'd possibly like to experiment with some variety of single sourcing, to make it easier to update content that's common to multiple manuals. This would all be quite useful and would probably keep us quite busy for some time, but I'm sure that I can come up with far more grandiose ideas. I'll just have to think about this some more.

At work, I'm also playing around with a program called WikiPad. This is a notepad type program with a wiki-style interface. This seemed like a rather odd concept to me at first, since the primary use of wikis is to allow multiple people to easily collaborate in creating a set of web pages. What's the point of a one-person wiki? Well, the nice think about a wiki is that it allows you to very quickly create hyperlinks on the fly. I've long been looking for some kind of note-taking tool that would allow me to sort notes into various separate categories while making links between related items. When I'm working on a project, I tend to be jotting down a constant stream of different items: little brainstorms on things to add to the document, to do items, questions that I need to ask the programmer or the engineer, lists of various kinds, outlines. Keeping all of this organized is difficult.

The catch is two-fold: that I haven't really found a tool that does exactly what I want. And up until now, all the tools that I have found that do something like what I want have been Mac only. (I know I've rhapsodized more than once about Omni Outliner. I've also been playing around a bit with DEVONthink, which seems flabbergastingly unintuitive, but potentially very very powerful once I get my brain in tune with it.) Normally I'd be intensely smug about the obvious software superiority of Macs in this area, but I have to work on a Windows XP machine 40-50 hours a week, and that puts a different complexion on the whole deal.

So, enter WikiPad, which is Windows XP compatible and seems like it might be able to do some of what I want, with some coaxing. (Not all of what I want - probably what I want is some kind of relational database with an outliner or mind map style interface, with hyperlinking capabilities, so that I could easily reference word processing files, pdf files, graphics, and external web pages in my notes. This program, despite its immense power, should be simple and easy to use, and cost less than $30. Also, it should be able to make flawless capucchinos and answer my telephone. Simultaneously. Okay, clearly I can still do pie-in-the-sky when I want to.)

The interface is a bit clunky, and parts of it are really very visually ugly. On the other hand, it is really really easy to create links and/or new topics. (Almost too easy - my company has a disconcerting tendency to name its products using valid WikiWords. Yipes.) And the program has a cute little mechanism for tagging things as to do items, questions, actions, etc. and displaying those in an easily accessible separate lists. So, it might work. I've got a 30 day trial version -- we'll see how it goes.

The program also lets you export your wiki as HTML or XML. I can imagine that that might come in handy.

I'd still be ever so delighted if somebody would port OmniOutliner to Windows, but I don't know if that will ever happen.

(I found WikiPad through Contentious Weblog, which despite it's tautological name is a very fun and informative web log on writing and communications issues.)

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