Archive for the ‘Wiki’ Category

The new WikiStudent is now live

Saturday, 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This blog is no longer being updated.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.

Wiki spam

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Just an arb post about something that’s always at the back of my mind: wiki spam. A wiki spammer is someone (usually a bot, not a real person) who makes your life hell by wiping out your pages and replacing them with viagra links. Often they do it subtly, by using the Discussion page, where you might not notice, or by making their links ‘hidden’ from viewers, but visible to search engines. I know this because I saw it happen when I was using MediaWiki in 2006.

Spam bots have advanced over the years, and it’s no longer sufficient to require users to have a login in order to edit. Spammers can create their own logins. I still need to find a solution for this. One thing I can do is block certain countries from editing the wiki. Most Unisa students are from South Africa, and all spam I’ve experienced originates from other countries, so I could just block them. Simple! Turkey and Singapore (and a couple of neighbouring countries) are the main culprits. I doubt there are any Unisa students living there, so blocking these countries won’t inconvenience anybody.

Here’s what my wiki books have to say about wiki spam:

From page 329 of MediaWiki:

In “Block User” on page 150, we discussed how to ban users from the wiki. Administrators have other tools at their disposal. If your wiki is a victim of spam user accounts created by bots, consider adding a CAPTCHA to the create account page. The ConfirmEdit extension,, is one of the most popular.

From page 128 of Wiki Web Collaboration:

An increase in the frequency of wiki spam (as well as spam in blogs, forums and guest books) has become evident. The reason lies in the assessment of pages by search engines. The more external links lead to a hit, the higher that page is ranked. The assumption is that a well-linked site is most probably relevant to many people. To receive as many links as possible, spammers place a mass of external links to their homepage in the wikis, blogs, etc. It does not matter that these entries will be deleted soon after; the important thing is that a certain percentage of such links are still online when the search engine robots visit a site.

From page 154 of How Wikipedia works:

Wikipedia uses nofollow tags, which means that search engines do not take into account whether a site is linked to from Wikipedia when they calculate rankings. From a search engine optimization standpoint, including a site in a Wikipedia article has no benefit. This decision was made in order to discourage zealous webmasters from trying to use Wikipedia to boost their sites.

PS. In my book, a Unisa student asking for past exam papers on the wiki is also a spammer!

Talk pages

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I feel like quoting from my new How Wikipedia works book again, seeing how helpful it has been so far. (By the way, I’m on page 100. Still 400 more pages to go!)

From page 25:

Every article is coupled with a talk page (also called a discussion page), which is accessed by clicking the Discussion tab at the top of the screen. Here editors ask questions about the article’s content, propose changes, display notices for other editors, and discuss technical matters (like the title of an article and whether an article should be split into pieces or combined with another).

Each discussion page is meant only for discussing the article it is linked to. Despite the name, discussion pages are not forums for general discussion of the article’s subject.

You can see where the discussion tab is located from yesterday’s screenshot (It’s a red link, meaning that there’s no content there yet).

In 2006, when I tried MediaWiki for the site for a few months, I experienced exactly what the authors are saying above: people think that ‘discussion’ means ‘discussion forum’, and what students did was ask for past papers there, instead of having discussions about the content of the page. What the discussion page will be for, in the context of WikiStudent, is things like saying that a module code has changed (so that I can rename the URL), or suggestions for the page that you don’t want to make live yourself in case you think others won’t agree. There will be no discussion forums on WikiStudent! Remember this.

A bit of a brainwave

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

I finally picked up my new Wikipedia book (How Wikipedia works and how you can be a part of it) and got an idea for WikiStudent before even getting to page 1! Here’s quoting from the cheatsheet found in the introduction, page xxiv

<!– hidden comment in wikitext –>

Produces hidden comments in wikitext, only visible to other editors.

Now this is a standard HTML comment tag that I’ve known about forever, but when reading the phrase “only visible to other editors” I realised I could take advantage of this to display editing instructions only to people editing the wiki, making it easier for editors (who might be unsure of what to write) and better-looking for visitors (who don’t need to see instructions).

The old WikiStudent wiki had instructions in red font below each heading, so if you went to a page that nobody had filled in yet, it looked rather ugly.

You might think it would be better to put editing instructions in a separate part of the site. Yes, I am going to have an editing help guide, but when people see something that needs editing, do you think they are going to start looking for this guide? No, they’re going to want to click ‘edit’ and start typing away, so it’s a good idea to have localised instructions.

To give you an example, take the very first heading of all module pages, which is “Introduction”. When you click ‘edit’ next to this section you’ll see something like this:

=== Introduction ===

<!– Write a beginner’s introduction below, in paragraph format. Say what you learn in this module, what it is like in general, and give the prerequisites. –>

The instructions between <!– and –> are only visible to the person editing the section. Perfect!

What a wonderful wiki day!

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

This morning I went to pick up some stuff I’d ordered online: 2 Wikipedia shirts and a book on Wikipedia, which all arrived on the same day :-)

And here they are:

Wikipedia shirts and book

The book is over 500 pages so who knows when I’ll get through it… I’m going to read it with WikiStudent in mind, and jot down (and blog) ideas as I read about how Wikipedia is managed and organised. What works for Wikipedia should work for WikiStudent!