One of the most rewarding home IT projects that I have done was to implement a system for “home documentation.” In a business environment documentation is critical to nearly any process or department. At home, documentation is critical too but often overlooked or approached from a completely different perspective than it is in a business, but there is no need for this. Many people resort to special tools, iPhone apps or physical pen & paper notepads to address documenting things around the house. I propose something far more enterprise and elegant. A wiki.
Wikis have been around for some time now and nearly everyone is familiar with their use. At its core a wiki is just a web-based application. Wikis come in many shapes and forms and with varying degrees of complexity and run on different platforms. This makes them very flexible and applicable to nearly anyone, regardless of what kind of systems you run at home.
Using a wiki for home use becomes very obvious quite quickly once the project is underway. Documenting bills, accounts, purchases, home repairs, part numbers, service schedules, insurance information and your home network, of course, all make perfect sense and are easy to do. The wiki does not need to be large, just big enough to be useful. Mine is certainly not sprawling but all of my important data is housed in one, convenient place and is text searchable. So even if I don’t know how I organized something, I can just search on it. All of my important data is there, in a single place, so that I can look it up when needed and, more importantly, my wife can look it up and update it when needed. It allows for simple, reliable collaboration. And I make mine available from inside or outside the home, so I can access my information from work or while traveling. That’s a functionality that traditional home documentation systems lack.
While there are many wikis available today, I will mention three that make the most sense for the vast majority of people. These are DokuWiki, MediaWiki and SharePoint from Microsoft. DokuWiki and MediaWiki have the advantage of running on UNIX so can be deployed in a variety of situations for low or no cost. They are free themselves. DokuWiki shines in that it needs no database and uses nothing but the filesystem making it incredible simple to deploy, manage, backup and restore. It is nothing more than a set of text files and a small PHP application that writes them. MediaWiki is, by far, the most popular wiki option and, like DokuWiki, is an PHP application but is backed by a database, normally MySQL, making it more complex but giving it more power as well. Many people would choose MediaWiki to use for home (as do I) because it provides the most direct experience for the largest number of businesses. SharePoint is free if you have a Windows Server and is much more complex than the pure wiki options. SharePoint is an entire application platform that also includes a wiki as a part of its core functionality. If you are looking to move more heavily into the Microsoft ecosystem then using SharePoint would likely make the most sense and will provide a lot of additional functionality like calendaring and document storage too.
Running a wiki can help give meaning to a home web server. Instead of sitting idle it can house important applications and really be used regularly. While not a massive project having a wiki at home could be an important step to giving meaning to the home IT environment. IT at home often suffers from lacking direction or purpose – implementing systems only like a lab and lacking real world use. Like the PBX example in an earlier article, a home documentation wiki can give your network meaning and purpose.