Snarky Emails

Hint: When you want your sysadmin to do something for you, I would suggest not sending a snarky email about it to two large distribution lists.

We have a wiki at work. It’s a MoinMoin WikiWiki. It was installed a few years ago, mainly for the sysadmin team to use. It’s been upgraded once, so it’s not way behind, but it’s starting to get more use, since other teams in the company have started to use it.

However it’s slow. It uses a flat-file system to store the data and searches really crawl. And some people think that wiki markup is difficult. So a certain web programmer (we’ll call him “Ralph” to protect the guilty) has been bugging me to upgrade it or replace it.

But what they wanted was both better performance and WYSIWYG editing. The wiki comparison that I was looking at didn’t show any with both of those features.

So I sent an email to the sysadmin and content distribution lists (both pretty big lists) with a survey. It looked like this:

Subject: Wiki Survey

I know people are unhappy with the performance of the Wiki.

I also know that people would like a WYSIWYG interface for adding content (which I think is silly – Wiki markup is not that hard.)

Unfortunately, it would appear that the two are mutually exclusive.

We can get performance by changing to a DB backend, but the Wikis that I have found that use a DB backend don’t have a WYSIWYG plug-in.

So here is a survey.

What is more important to you:

Performance – Faster searching, faster page loads
WYSIWYG editing – ease of content addition

Please use the voting buttons.

And if you know of a Wiki that uses a DB backend AND supports WYSIWYG editing, PLEASE let me know.

Simple enough, and I got some votes.

Then Ralph sent me an email that really put a twist in my knickers.

You can read it (and my responses) after the jump.
Here is his email (in full) interwined with my responses – Ralph’s email is indented:

Let me just start out by stating that I find this kind of response (publicly chastising people you are trying to get to help you) offensive and counter-productive. It puts my hackles up and makes me want to stop all work on this project.

Then I will point out that there are five (yes, 5) sysadmins supporting all of this company. That means that there are very limited resources available for all projects.

Side projects, like the wiki, that are not supported in any way by management, or by dollars, will always get the short shrift.

Let me break this down, point by point:

The two features in the survey are NOT mutually exclusive. A quick check of the wiki comparison chart (Wiki comparison page) shows three wiki engines that have both features (WakoWiki, WikkaWiki, and XWiki) and a fourth (MediaWiki) that’s got a DB backend and and experimental wysiwyg editor.

I had stated “Unfortunately, it would appear that the two are mutually exclusive.” Note the word “appear” in that sentence.

The chart that I was looking at: (Another Wiki Comparison page) does not have those wikis on it.

I also asked if anyone knew of a wiki that satisfied these two requirements.

You could have sent me a simple note saying “here, look at this”. Instead you decided to broadcast this note to everyone.

You state that people don’t have time to learn wiki markup, well, I don’t have time to research every wiki variant out there.

As for weather(sic) or not a wysiwyg editor is silly or not, I would say not. No one gets paid to write wiki markup, as a result, not many people actually know wiki markup, easy or not. This slows the wiki’s adoption as the company repository for documentation. When a user wants to add documentation, they have to stop and research wiki markup to figure out how to get it to show up on the wiki.

I’m not going to get into this. This is a holy-war issue. You think Wiki markup is hard. I don’t. I would point out that the simple markup (which is what most casual users need) is displayed at the bottom of every editing session.

I will, however, suggest that you are getting paid to write documentation and that if our documentation system uses wiki markup, then you are getting paid to write wiki markup.

There are a lot of things at Widgets that are not hard, but are unnecessary that hurt our efficiency. For example, it’s not hard to navigate three challenge screens to check e-mail remotely, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to reduce the challenge screens to one.

I don’t know why you have to navigate three screens to check your email from home. It takes me one screen. Two if I use Outlook Web Access or if I don’t do it from my work laptop.

What you are asking for is called Single Sign On. It is easy to say. It is very hard to implement. Ask the big companies who have tried. It ain’t going to happen here at Widgets for a long time.

Closer to home, the wiki is located at http://sysadmin/sysadmin rather than at sysadmin. If you go to sysadmin you find a link to the current wiki and to several obsolete documents. True it’s not hard to click the link on sysadmin to get to http://sysadmin/sysadmin, and it’s not hard to bookmark where you’d really like to go, but to what end? Why put any sand in the engine of Widgets? The question should not be ‘is it hard to jump over the hurdle?’ it should be ‘how can we get rid of or minimize as many hurdles as possible?’.

The reason that the wiki is not the front page is historical. You will note that the host is called “sysadmin”, not “developers” or “everyone”.

This is because this web server, and the wiki on it, was originally setup for use by the sysadmin team. Not the whole company. So it was setup the way the sysadmin team wanted to use it.

I’m sorry it doesn’t meet with your approval.

Also, when this wiki was setup, it was an experiment. At that time, the programmers were going to do all their documentation on Foo. The developers were documenting I don’t know how. The sysadmins thought that a wiki would be interesting to try.

Everybody else just jumped on the wiki later.

As to the question of what is hard and what is not, that is subjective. Wiki markup may not be a high hurdle for a member of our technical staff, but it could be an insurmountable hurdle for a member of out non-technical staff. This fact alone will keep the wiki from being adopted by the larger Widgets community. Then we may never be able to reduce the number of repositories for documentation, which currently stands at three: (intraweb site), (another internal site), and http://sysadmin/sysadmin. It’s not hard to search for information in three places, but again I ask ‘why?’

There are more than three repositories now. There is also documentation in the form of Word and Excel docs on (fileserver). There is un-written documentation. There are email trails.

You ask “Why?” Because we have no one person in charge of documentation. We have no standards for documentation. We have no peer review of documentation. And we have had no compelling reason, nor any resources provided, to clean it up.

Some more questions I might put to you are: Do we want the entire Widgets community to use the Wiki? Is a Wiki the best documentation solution for the entire organization? Do you really think we need a one-size-fits-most solution?

While I do understand what you are trying to do, I don’t much care for the method that you use while you do it.

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