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Frequently Asked Questions

Well, OK then, 'frequently asked' might be a slight exageration, but here's some stuff you might find useful anyway. Please feel free to add more if anything suitable occurs to you. Alternatively, get in touch with the system administrator if there's something you need to know and you can't find here.

Getting Started

What is this wiki thing, anyway?

In its broadest sense, a wiki is a web site within which the individual pages can be edited by its users. Wiki pages typically contain text, images, tables and links to other relevant pages. The wiki format is very flexible and can be used in a variety of contexts. The format is particularly suitable for projects that require collaboration between members. It's also very suitable for creating an individual knowledge base.

What do I do first?

The fact that you're already reading this suggests that you've already made the first step. If you've not bookmarked the home page, I suggest you do that now. Clicking any of the links in the 'Navigation' bar at the side of this page will take you to some of the existing directory pages, from where you can then start to explore the current content.

What's my password? I forgot...

Forgetting your password isn't too clever, so write it down and keep it in a safe place, then the problem will never arise!

However, should you somehow have managed it anyway, you can sort the problem out by pressing the E-mail password button on the 'Log in/create account' dialog.

What's my user page for?

On registration, a new wiki page will be created with a title that matches your username. Whenever you're logged in to the system, a link to this page will be present at the top of your browser window. You can use this page for whatever purpose you like - putting some of your favourite links there is a a good idea, or you might want to use it for random notes to yourself. You can use the My Talk page that's associated with your user page to send simple messages to other users.

What's this Semantic Wiki thing I keep hearing about?

Mediawiki is very much an extensible system. Users are encouraged to create and share their own extensions to the core wiki functionality, thus providing for special functionality that isn't considered appropriate for the main system.

For Our Ordnance Survey, an extension called Semantic Mediawiki (SMW) (and its associated tools) has been deployed and used. SMW builds on the basic wiki idea by allowing users to add computer-understandable meaning to their page content. Once such metadata has been added to a page, it can be queried in a multitude of ways, or even exported for use in other applications. Because it can be tricky to remember which sorts of data have formalised properties within the system, special templates and forms are available to make editing such content easy and accessible to all. If you want to see some evidence of SMW in use, navigate to the Project Directory page and look at how it's been created - the semantic mark-up in the individual project pages allows this summary page to be created via a simple query.

Where do I go for help?

The Help page, linked to from the sidebar, provides links to both the official MediaWiki documentation and its associated extensions. If you're editing content and need to know how a particular feature works, you're more than likely to find your answer here.

If you wish to create a user account, or need some basic advice about usage, or have encountered a problem that you're unsure how to resolve, the IS Service Desk (023 80792911) should be contacted in the first instance.

Searching and Browsing

How do I explore what's already there?

There are several ways of finding your way through the wiki, each with its own advantages. For many users, the most obvious approach will be to navigate using the links present within the Navigation sidebar (at the left of each page) or via the links embedded within wiki pages themselves.

Additionally, the Search box will let you search on a given term or, via the Go button, allow you to jump to a specifically named page.

Finally, if you want to find pages of a specific type (say, Templates or Forms), then these can best be found via using the appropriate Special Page (see below).

What are the Special Pages for?

In addition to the pages created from scratch by the wiki's users, there are a number of other pages that are created and maintained automatically by the system. These are known as Special Pages - a list of which can be found by clicking the Special Pages link in the toolbox at the left of the browser window. Some Special Pages provide lists of specific page types - say, Templates or Properties. There are other pages that provide metadata about the system itself - the Version and Logs pages are examples of these. Additionally, there are helper pages that assist with particular tasks, such as creating new semantic properties or categories.

How do I follow a page's updates?

If a wiki page is being updated regularly by a number of different users, it can potentially become difficult to follow what's taken place. To help with this, Mediawiki employs a 'watch' system, that allows users to sign up for e-mail page updates, which will be sent when changes are made to the pages that you're interested in.

Each page in the wiki has an associated Watch tab at the top of the browser window. Pressing this tab will add the current page to your own private 'watch list' (note that you can only watch pages if you're a registered user...). You can view your watchlist using the link at the top of the page.


How do I edit or add a page?

Pages in Our Ordnance Survey can be edited in two distinct ways.

Because the system uses the Semantic Mediawiki system, it's possible to make edits via a simple forms interface. In fact, this is the most straightforward way to edit data and should be used whenever possible. To access a page's form, just click the 'Edit' tab, which will be at the top of the browser window*. Upon pressing Edit, the form for that page will be shown. Entering details into each a form should be straightforward and self-explainatory. When you're done, press the Save button to save any changes into the system.

The forms interface is also used for creating new pages. Page names for new pages are typically created automatically from details entered into the form.

The other method for editing/creating pages is to use the default Mediawiki text entry window. On most existing pages, this interface can be accessed using the 'edit source' tab at the top of the browser window. Editing a page in this way consists of entering basic text content and augmenting it with 'wiki mark-up' - codes that format the content in a myriad of ways. Documentation supporting this process (there's a lot of it...) can be found on the official Mediawiki websites (see the Help:Contents page). Although this process can be made as simple or complex as necessary, it is still preferable to use the forms interface if at all possible. Users choosing to edit existing pages can expect to find many example of template calls and '#ask' reports - it's suggested that these are left alone!

  • Note that you must be logged in to make page edits. If you're not logged in, a 'view source' tab will replace the Edit button. Also note that there may be a few pages where editing has been purposely disabled - the wiki's home screen is an example of this.

I've made a bad edit. How do I revert the page back to what it was?

If you've made and saved a page edit, but then realised that it's not what you wanted to do, then you can roll-back the page to any saved point in the past. To do this, click the 'history' tab at the top of the screen. This will list each individual edit that has been made to the page. Against each entry will be an 'undo' link - click this to revert the page back to that point.

I've made a new page that I no longer need. How do I delete it?

To ensure that good content is not lost unintentionally (and that no-one is able to wreck the system...), it's not possible for regular users to delete pages. If you need a page to be deleted, note the page name (and namespace, if necessary) and inform the administrator.

What are the Discussion pages for?

Each time a new page of content is required, a parallel discussion page is created too. You can access this page from the tab at the top of the browser window, or refer to it by using the Discussion namespace.

If you look at Wikipedia, you'll see that the Discussion pages are regularly used to discuss page content. You'll usually find that people treat it like a mini-forum, entering their own point of view and signing off with a signature. Whilst the potential is there for us to work in this way to, it reality it seems unlikely that people with bother to do this. If there's an issue on one of the pages, it seems more likely that people will just meet up and discuss it.

How do I add an image?

There are two main ways of adding an image to a page. Some types of page already make provision for image uploads via the entry form. For these, the selection of the image can be achieved entirely from within the form, with a file browser popping up to let you select an appropriate image from your file system. Once selected, the image will be inserted into the page automatically, and may be resized. Ideally, if you have a very large image, you should resize it locally using a graphics application before uploading it into the wiki (there's no point using up server space...)

If you want to add additional images to a page, then this is possible too, but will need another approach. In this case, you'll need to upload each image separately from the page, using the Upload File page that you'll find in the Toolbox menu on the left of the screen. The actual interface for doing this is straightforward - a file browser will be shown, allowing you to select the image from your own file system. Once the image has been uploaded into the wiki, it will be present in its own page. From here, you then have another choice...

Firstly, you can manually reference the file from within the text of any other page. To do this, you just include the name of the image, with its 'File' prefix, in the target page, putting sets of two square brackets around the name. It'll look something like [[File:MyPhoto.jpg]].

Easier than that, and most probably more useful, is to add annotations to your image, that will enable it to be picked up automatically by other pages and included in their galleries. To do this, on the image page itself, just press the 'Edit' tab at the top of the screen, then enter any details that you think are appropriate. If you're hoping to reference the name of an existing page, then make sure that the name is spelt correctly (or it won't get recognised...). It's possible to include multiple names in many of the fields - just separate each entry with a comma.

How do I create a signature?

If you're commenting on someone else's content, perhaps on a 'discussion' page or in response to someone's question, it's a good idea to include a signature. In the standard edit window, there's a button that will do this for you.

Alternatively, you can type ~~~~. You'll need to use this method if you're wanting add a signature when completing a form, as the buttons won't be available.

How do I prevent the wiki from interpreting special characters?

There are occasions when you might want to include text in your page that would normally be interpreted by the wiki as a special instruction. For example, if I wanted to document what wiki link syntax looked like, without it actually be interpreted as a link, then I might want to show it as [[Main Page]] and not Main Page. To achieve this, the <nowiki> or <pre> tags should be used. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowiki for more information.

Is it OK to use HTML in my pages?

As the wiki will ultimately be turning your page content into HTML anyway, it's not surprising that its possible for the editor to use HTML tags within their content. Actually, not all HTML tags can be used in this way (the anchor tag is a good example of one which doesn't work), although many can. Whether you actually SHOULD use HTML is a different matter, as most HTML functionality is duplicated with wiki-specific mark-up codes. In general, it's probably best to avoid HTML, as not everyone is familiar with it.

Personal Customisation

How do I change the date format?

Many aspects of the wiki's functionality and appearance can be altered by each individual (registered!) user. The date format is perhaps one of the most useful options that can be changed. To do this, click the 'My Preferences' link at the top of the page, then select the Date And Time tag. A number of alternatives will be offered - make your selection and press Save.

How do I change the skin?

The MediaWiki system is delivered with a number of different 'skin' designs, each of which can be selected by each individual user. To change between any of the available skins, use the 'My Preferences' link and select the 'Skin' tab. A list of available skins is then presented, which can be selected at will. The default skin is called MonoBook - it's this one that has the distinctive Wikipedia look and it's this one that is specifically supported by this Wiki. If you want to use a different one, then fine, but don't expect anyone else to help out if something isn't working. It's possible for further skins to be loaded into the system - if you have a particular requirement for this, ask the wiki Administrator.

How do I change the Navigation/Assistance/Toolbox menus?

As a regular user, you can't change these menus - their content is common to all users. However, if you have a suggestion for something to be added or removed from them, again, please contact the Administrator.

How do I change the Main Page?

This page has been locked, to ensure that the wiki always exposes a consistent entry point. If you think you need it to be changed, contact the Administrator.

How do I create new forms, properties, templates...

It's technically possible for regular wiki users to add more complex content to the wiki and effectively change its fundamental interface and content. However, it is recommended that if you think you have a requirement to make more fundamental system changes, you first contact an administrator.

How do I add an entry to a drop-down list when using the forms?

When using some of the forms, you'll notice that some entry boxes are constrained by a drop-down list. Thus, you can only choose from values that are given. There may be occasions when you need to add something new to that list. To do that, you need to edit the property settings for the field in question. To do this, first establish the name of the property that you're interested in. This will usually be obvious from the form, but sometimes it might differ. If you want to double check, look at the Fact Box at the bottom of the page and see what the name is there. Once you're sure of the name, navigate to the property's own page - it's best to do this via the Properties Special Page. On the property page, you'll find a list of the current allowed values - edit this list to add your new entry, then Save.

Odds and Ends

Can I create pages that can only be seen by selected users?

No. Because the MediaWiki platform was designed specifically for Wikipedia, it contains only minimal access control functionality. For read access, there are only two options - 'everyone can see everything' or 'only registered users can see anything at all'.

Where can I find out more?

There are lots of extra resources to be found online about wikis in general, Mediawiki and Semantic Mediawiki. For up-to-date information about SMW, the official mailing list/forums are the place to look. These can most easily be viewed at http://www.nabble.com/Semantic-Mediawiki-f21811.html.