Tutorial: Create a Wiki in Google Sites

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Last week I talked about how a wiki can be a great organizational tool for your team. In case you don't feel like reading my original post, here's a brief explanation of what a wiki is: A wiki is basically just a website that can be edited by anyone on your team or at your company. It's used to store information about all the different things you need to keep track of such as documentation, files, to-do lists, etc.

As I mentioned in that post, there are a bunch of different tools to help you set up a wiki, but my favorite is Google Sites. In this post, I'll go over how I set up my wikis using Google Sites.

The first thing we need to do is make a new "site". Log in to Google Sites at sites.google.com (or sites.google.com/a/YOURDOMAIN.com if you are using Google Apps with your domain). Click the "Create new site" button.

When creating the site, you'll need to choose a name (I'd go with "Wiki") and you can change the URL if you want to. By default the wiki will be shared with everyone on your domain (if you're using Google Apps) which is probably what you want, but you might want to click "More Options" and make sure everything is set up the way you want. When everything is ready, click the "Create site" button.

The first screen you'll see is the home page for the wiki. Now that the site is created, you really just need to know how to a few things: Create new pages, organize your pages, and create a dashboard to make the wiki more accessible.

Creating new pages

Your wiki will be made up of a bunch of different web pages. You'll want to make a different page for every different item you want to keep track of. Here are some examples of the types of pages you might want to make (some of these should probably be broken into several pages):

  • An introduction for new employees
  • A list of files that employees might want to print such as time sheets, vacation requests, reimbursement forms, etc.
  • Documentation about how your operations work such as information about vendors you purchase from or documentation about your I.T. procedures
  • Scripts and training materials for specific departments such as sales

The idea is that all the knowledge at your company should be stored in the pages of your wiki so that if one of your employees gets hit by a bus (or if they're just on vacation), you won't lose access to any critical information.

So how do you make a new page? Just click the "Create a page" button at the top right of the screen. You'll be asked to enter a new name, and you can also choose the type of page you want. Most of the time you'll want to use a "Web Page" because that's basically just an empty text document. the "File Cabinet" page type can be useful if you want to make a page to upload and organize external files, but you should generally enter as much information as possible directly into the wiki rather than uploading lots of other files because the search function won't be able to search the contents of files you upload. You can also make a "List" page which can act as a public to-do list. I'd stay away from "Announcements" and "Start Pages" for now.

Once you've picked the page type and named the page, click "Create Page". Assuming you went with the "Web Page" option, you'll see a basically blank page with the title you chose. This is where you should enter all the information that belongs on the page. Enter everything you want to show up on the page and click "Save" in the top right corner. Whenever you visit this page in the future you can click "Edit" in the top right corner to make changes, so don't worry about getting everything perfect from the start.

Now that you know how to make a basic page, I suggest you spend some time entering as many different pages as you can think of. Once you have a decent number of pages made, you're ready for the next step...

Organizing your pages

There are two different ways to find information on your wiki. The first is to search using the search bar which is on every page. That's pretty self-explanatory so I won't waste your time talking about it. The other way is to browse to find the page you want, but this requires you to set up a structure for your pages so that you can find everything.

To make browsing easy, you'll need to add links from the home page to the other pages you created, but you probably won't be able to put all the links on one page. You'll need to break the pages into categories. Each category will need it's own new page which will link to all the pages in that category.

Note: there are different ways to set this up in Google Sites. They have a built-in page structure which you can try out, but I suggest manually building a directory as I describe here even if you also use the built-in structure.

For example, let's say you want to break your wiki into the following categories: Internal Operations, Sales Training, and Project Management. First, you'd need to make a page for each one of those categories. Once those pages are made you should add links to them on your home page so that they'll be easy to find. Then from the category pages you can link to the individual pages in that category, or you can break things down even further by making sub-categories.

This page is just a list of links to other pages. By breaking down all your content into categories and using category pages like this to link to them, you can set up an easy way to browse all the content on the wiki.

That covers all the basic functionality you need from a wiki, but there's one other thing I'd suggest.

Creating a dashboard

If you're storing a lot of information in the wiki, it might be helpful to turn your homepage into a dashboard with a summary of important info. If you want to try this out, go to the home page and click on the edit button.

You'll see a menu at the top of the page with a "Layout" option. Click on that to give your page multiple columns. You can obviously lay the page out however you want, but I generally use two columns for the dashboard. You should already have the links to your category pages already entered, so now you just need to pick other things to add. You can add components to this page by clicking the "Insert" menu item. There are a lot of options, but some of the most handy things to include on your dashboard are calendars, google docs, a list of recently updated files, or recent list items.

Hopefully this tutorial helps you get your wiki started. I promise that once you get everything set up, you'll fall in love with how easy it is to access all your information. You should also encourage other members of your team to log in and keep it up to date.

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