The new WikiStudent is now live

October 17th, 2009

The new WikiStudent, for Unisa students, went live a couple of weeks ago. The URL:

We need Unisa students to become editors to help fill in the content - see the new site for how to join.

This blog is no longer being updated. You can browse the archives if you’re interested in how WikiStudent was re-built.

The end of this blog

June 9th, 2009

The WikiStudent testing site went live last month, and I’ve finally decided not to continue with this blog anymore as most of the discussion is happening on the test site. (My other websites have also been horribly neglected these past four months, so stopping this blog will at least free up half an hour a day!) I will do one more post here, this weekend, with more info about the test site, how you can help, and when it will be made public.

Protection from rain (and spam)

June 8th, 2009

Last week, after being caught in the rain without an umbrella, as soon as I was at the PC I went online to shop for one. Here’s what I ordered:

umbrellaA FireFox umbrella - how cool is that! Everyone I showed the pic to wanted one as well so I put in a bulk order to save on shipping. It was pricy (the total order came to over 100 Pounds) but worth it, considering that the proceeds go to the Mozilla foundation and this is a brilliant way to promote FireFox :-)

If I had my way, everybody would use FireFox as their browser. Currently on average 20% of my visitors use FireFox which is just shocking…

A few weeks ago I mentioned blocking a bunch of spammer countries. I recently carried this out and it has been quite effective. Sometimes I’m tempted to block access to my websites to all non-FireFox users, but that would be too harsh, considering some people browse from their cellphones.

What I might do instead is this: Order dozens of FireFox umbrellas and re-sell them from my websites, and display monthly statistics of how many people are using FireFox. Just another one of my ideas…

Visual hierarchy

June 8th, 2009

I’m reading Don’t make me think for the third time (It’s a book worth re-reading - I learn new things from it each time). Quoting from page 31:

There are five important things you can do to make sure your users see – and understand – as much of your site as possible:

  1. Create a clear visual hierarchy on each page
  2. Take advantage of conventions
  3. Break pages up into clearly defined areas
  4. Make it obvious what’s clickable
  5. Minimize noise

The dynamic menu tree (if I can just get it working!) will be THE feature to indicate the clear hierarchy of the site. At a glance you’ll be able to see how big the site is (i.e. how many pages) and how they all fit in in relation to each other.

Bookshop not happening yet

June 7th, 2009

The one drawback of using MediaWiki is that you can’t create forms and other database-driven features because the editing boxes are entirely text-based. This meant that I had to say goodbye to my Unisa second-hand bookshop, which used to store buyer and seller and book details in a database.

Then, I had the idea of creating MediaWiki tables on the module pages, where students could edit the table cells if they wanted to buy or sell a book. Here is an example:


The trouble, I found out when doing usability testing, is that the MediaWiki table syntax is very complicated, and anybody who has never edited a wiki before will be confused by

|| || || ||

and it doesn’t naturally occur to someone that you need to edit in the book details between the pipe symbols.

So, rather than make people read detailed instructions and expect them to master wiki markup for tables, I’m going to put a hold on the bookshop for now, and write a standalone bookshop in 2010, where anybody (not just WikiStudent editors) can sell their books.