Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Deki Compilation Post (4)

In my quest for amazing and useful Web 2.0 tools, I have discovered a new collaboration tool called Deki Express. Designed by MindTouch, Deki Express is the free version of several Deki platforms available. Deki is a "mashup capable wiki", or "an open source enterprise collaboration and community platform." Users can create their own wiki and integrate with other web services like Google, Yahoo!, Windows Live, Flickr, YouTube, and WidgetBox. It is easy to embed content from other websites. MindTouch claims that Deki Express is the "most feature rich wiki available" that "allows you to create, organize, aggregate, and mashup information." It is easy to set up, easy to use, and free, and can be used for many different types of collaboration. Once you login and create your Deki account, you can quickly and easily design your page/s, add content, and invite collaborators. You can also edit the layout and design of your page/s, creating a customized look, and can add all kinds of content. You can attach and share files such as documents, videos, and pictures, and track changes made by users.

To begin using Deki Express, you must register and create an account. Once you're registered and signed in, you can begin to customize your wiki. You can choose a template to create a customized look, with a nice background and a main image in the corner. You can also create multiple pages for your wiki, each with its own title. Next, you can add content by typing in the boxes, or uploading images or files. You can also add extensions, including widgets from other websites. Finally, and most importantly, invite other users! You can specify what permissions to grant to your users, so that they can only view the wiki, or they can act as Admins and modify the wiki, or add and edit content. Deki Express allows to you track the changes users make, so you can restore previous versions if you wish. I created a slideshow on Prezi to illustrate Deki Express and its functions.

There are some similar wiki tools. MediaWiki was originally designed for use on Wikipedia. It looks just like Wikipedia, in terms of design and layout. The website describes MediaWiki as "free server-based software which is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It's designed to be run on a large server farm for a website that gets millions of hits per day." It is the most popular wiki platform on the web. However, MindTouch Deki has some improvements over MediaWiki, which are too technical for me to understand but apparently they are important to web developers. Another similar tool is Drupal. Drupal is an open-source content management platform, which "supports a variety of websites ranging from personal weblogs to large community-driven websites." Like MediaWiki, Drupal is also free software distributed under GPL, and has a lot of features like MediaWiki and Deki. There are also ways Deki supposedly improves on Drupal.

MindTouch is a San Diego-based company that delivers Web services, distributed computing, service oriented architecture (SOA), Internet infrastructure and open-source development. They have millions of customers, including Microsoft, Fujitsu, Siemens, Gannett, The Washington Post, Intel, U.S. Army, and the Department of Defense.

You may now be asking yourself, "Why this Deki tool, and what does it have to do with me and museums?" I'm glad you asked. I have recently been exploring the connection between Web 2.0 technology and museums (especially natural history museums, of course) and have discovered a whole area dedicated to this topic. (Check out Nina Simon's excellent blog "Museum 2.0".) Many museums, especially natural history museums, are currently trying to transition from the old way of doing things, to a new, more technological, collaborative, and open way of doing business. From working in a natural history museum I frequently witness firsthand the need for more integration of new technologies, as well as the difficulties involved with getting staff and partners to learn and use new technology. Many museum projects involve dozens of people across the country, around the world, and in several different companies. These projects--and even the smaller scale projects and communications that occur every day--require a better way to collaborate. This is where a high function, customizable, and easy to use wiki like Deki comes into the picture. As I began exploring Deki, I felt a thrill of excitement imagining what it would be like if everyone at my museum used Deki, rather than the endless stream of emails. Deki, if it was instituted throughout the museum and used with partners, could really change the way we operate.

Another use I see for Deki is amongst us bloggers and collectors, all of us who are interested in this topic of natural history and its museums, as well as those of us who want to share our collections with each other. With Deki we could compile our information and images and collaborate on various research and projects. Deki has so many features and so much potential, it's hard to think of anything it couldn't do when it comes to online collaboration.

While at first glance this seemed like such an easy tool for any non-tech person to use, I'm going to have to modify that initial impression. I'm discovering that Deki may be easy to use, but only once a tech-savvy administrator/corporate IT-person sets it up. Most of the language on the MindTouch website is very technical and not accessible to the average person. I consider myself to be fairly tech smart, for a non-tech person, but I could not understand about half of the words they used. I can tell that Deki has all kinds of useful and neat web tools to embed and use in conjunction with the wiki, but I don't understand what exactly these tools are, nor how to add them to my Deki pages. It's obvious that if I were a regular employee of a museum, and our IT person set up a Deki for us to use to collaborate on museum projects, I could easily access the wiki, add content, and view what others had added, and my life and the lives of my coworkers would be greatly improved. I might even be able to modify some of the settings, but that's about it. It seems to me that Deki is designed to be used by larger companies and corporations with IT departments and personnel, rather than being a more informal, anyone-can-use, kind of tool.

That said, from what I can tell, Deki seems to be an incredibly useful tool. Again, I'm a little lost reading the tech-heavy language, but MindTouch Deki gets consistently great reveiws and lots of awards. Most of the reviews I came across describe Deki as the best wiki out there. MindTouch has been "recognized for the most sophisticated, popular, award-winning, enterprise-scale, open-source Wiki solution in the market today." (from Groundswell)

MindTouch Deki also appears to have a lot of customers, including many large companies and government agencies, such as the U.S. Army, the EPA, the Washington Post, Microsoft, Harvard, etc.

I have created an account on Deki, and began making my own wiki to try it out. Here is my page:

(notice the custom picture in the upper left corner, and the colorful background.) This shows how the page looks if you're not logged in. If you're logged in, and are in Edit mode, it looks like this:

So, to conclude, MindTouch Deki is a fantastic collaboration tool for organizations, especially modern natural history museums, but is not designed for those who don't have their own IT departments at their disposal.