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As a Pro Blog Design reader, you’ve mastered the art of building blogs, but I want to introduce you to another form of managing information, the wiki. Certainly, you’ve seen Wikipedia and may even have contributed your writing to some of the articles. If so, then you know how easy it is to organize information with a wiki. You also may have noticed that Wikipedia tends to rank high in search engines. There are several reasons for this, but my theory is that the information is not only useful, but it also has a lot of internal links that may help articles reach the all-important Google top 10.

Let me start by saying that there are several hosting packages for wikis currently, such as wikia.com. I do not recommend going with these “wiki farms” because you will have no ownership of the wiki. You won’t be able to customize your site as much and you’ll be at the mercy of the whims of the wiki farmer. Most wiki farms will keep some or all of the advertising revenue. Plus, what happens if the wiki farm goes out of business? Basically by going with a wiki farm you have no ownership and no control over your destiny. Don’t build someone else’s wiki empire when you can start your own.

The first step to building your wiki empire is choosing your wiki software. There are  dozens of wiki platforms. However, for the sake of simplicity, I recommend Mediawiki. Mediawiki is the same software platform that Wikipedia uses, so it is constantly updated and there are plug-ins for everything. Plus, Mediawiki will give users a sense of familiarity that they might not otherwise have if you choose another software package. But if you’re feeling adventurous, it can’t hurt to go through and review some of the other wiki formats.

Next, you will want to choose a skin. There are dozens of free skins out there for Mediawiki. My favorite so far is the Clean Mediawiki style. This style is so simple and clean that article pages appear to be regular web pages. If you don’t want to skin your wiki, you can always go with the common Mediawiki look, if you don’t mind the mix of menu overload and drab gray.

Installing Mediawiki is a snap. You download the Mediawiki files and unzip them in your server directory at the top level of your domain. Be sure you have created a new MySQL instance with a username and password. You then hit the main page by typing in your domain and Mediawiki guides you through the rest of the setup. I won’t go into the details in this article, but suffice to say that Mediawiki is one of the easier software platforms to use if you are willing to invest just a little time.

You’ll need to add some plugins to your wiki configuration. If you chose Mediawiki as your software platform, then there are two plugins I recommend. The first plugin is for logging searches. It is called, plainly enough, the Log Searches extension. This will enable you to know exactly what your users are searching for which will help you know if your wiki needs a new article. The second plugin is the Google Sitemap extension which will make it incredibly easy to generate Google Sitemaps, which Google uses to find and index the various pages of a website.

Now that you know a few of the technical aspects of building a wiki, you’re ready to go. That is, if you can decide what your wiki will be about and find an appropriate domain name. Oh, and you need to choose your content license as well. Most wiki content is under the GNU Public License, meaning that it is free to copy and reproduce. However, a few wikis have gone the private route of copyrighting the material even if it is contributed by a community.

The great thing about building your wiki empire is that once you have momentum, your wiki will rank high in the search engines and there will be users generating content for you. The hard part is getting that momentum, which means that just like blogging, you will spend a lot of time writing content and gathering links before your site gets noticed.

Keep in mind that it’s estimated that only one percent of wiki users generate half of all content and edits, and two percent of the users generate about three-quarters of the content. So if you aren’t pulling in a few hundred users every day, you won’t be getting much fresh content. But once you do reach that threshold, your empire will be well underway, as wikis have the nice advantage of growing exponentially.

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