Libr 246 –06; Web 2.0/Library 2.0
Social Networking - Building an Online Community
The online community that I focused on for my project is comprised of parents and teachers of K-
12 students. The main forum that I created for the community is a wiki called “Parent Ed”, located
at http://parented.pbwiki.com/. This wiki covers topics related to parent education.
What needs of the online community are being fulfilled?
The wiki is being used as a tool for teacher and parents to share ideas about parenting, child
development and education. Using a wiki is a quick and easy way to post information, and allows
the information to be searchable.
Quality of Wiki Content
In order to improve the success of a wiki, it’s important to offer reliable and good quality
information. I felt that it would be helpful to gather content from school teachers, and other
experts on education.
I emailed two of the teachers from my son’s school, and told them about the Parent Ed wiki. I
requested soft copies of their handouts from their parent education classes. They sent their
handouts to me and I added the content to the wiki.
It was time-consuming for me to add the content, but I was glad to have received the handouts
from the teachers, because this provides high quality content that can potentially attract visitors to
the wiki. I also let the teachers know which web pages had their handouts, so that they can refer
to them in the future.
During the past 4 weeks, I’ve received helpful feedback from the teachers and parents in regard
to the technical problems they encountered when editing the wiki. Their experience and feedback
will enable me to provide better support to the wiki users in the future.
I created help documentation, and a screencast to provide step-by-step instructions on how to
edit the wiki: http://parented.pbwiki.com/FAQ. This video includes instructions that answer
common questions that I had received from the wiki contributors. It is more effective to have
these steps explained in video format, since I’m able to show the PB Wiki interface while
performing the editing steps.
I had chosen the PB Wiki hosting service because I thought that the WYSYWIG editor would be
more user-friendly. The editor worked well when the users only had to enter plain text. However,
if they wanted to add a hyperlink, or if they needed to copy-paste from a Word document, then
the PB Wiki pages started to have problems.
There are still a lot of bugs in the PB Wiki software that I hope will be fixed in the near future, but
it was convenient to be able to use PB Wiki since it allowed me to get started easily and quickly.
PB Wiki also has extra features, such as tracking site traffic that can be added if I want to
upgrade the service (for a monthly fee).
Whenever I develop web pages, I usually look at other websites to get ideas. It’s helpful to see
what other people have done to make their wikis successful.
Meredith Farkas has excellent examples of a blog (Information Wants to be Free) and several
wikis (Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki, ALA Chicago 2005 Wiki, ALA New Orleans 2006
Wiki and Internet Librarian 2007 Wiki) that help promote each other.
Since Wikipedia is one of the most popular wikis, I decided to take a look at how their statistics
are tracked. I found a page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Statistics, that lists statistics, such
as number of articles, edits and media files.
One of the Wikipedia pages displays a list of the top 100 articles that have been viewed in the
past 30 days. There are other pages (generated by a statistics service called Alexa) that provide
charts showing the traffic history for Wikipedia.
Figure – Example traffic history chart for wikipedia for the past 5 years
Measurements of Success
Initially, I was hoping to show measurements of success by tracking the website hit counts, or the
count of registered users. However, this type of tracking is not provided by PB Wiki hosting
service (unless I pay a fee), and since I didn’t require users to register, the count of registered
users is not accurate.
I had originally made the wiki password protected, but later changed it to be open, because I
didn’t want to have any unnecessary obstacles. A password is required only when the user wants
to make changes to the wiki.
The primary method that I used to measure the success of my wiki was to use the revision
history. The revision history provides a list of pages that are changed, by whom, and when the
edits were made.
Another way to show usage of the wiki is to show the number of pages. PB Wiki provides a link
called “Show all Pages”.
Figure – this screen shows that there are 26 pages included in the Parent Ed wiki.
How to get members to contribute
The main method that I used to recruit wiki contributors was to directly email potential community
members. I usually recommended the type of content, such as a parent education handout,
parenting article, website link, or a recipe.
Even though it is slower to notify each person separately, I feel that this is a good way to start
building the community. This allows time to select people more carefully and to build the core
content. It is easier to gather feedback from the users, implement improvements to the website,
and to refine the help documentation.
I believe that this core group of people will eventually inform others about the wiki, and the
community can gradually grow. It will also help to find school events that could use the wiki as a
promotion tool (e.g. parent education classes, football game schedule), or to keep the community
informed of school news.
Log of Wiki Usage
My wiki contributors during the past 4 weeks included 2 teachers, and 5 parents:
Teacher #1 – Mr. Jeff Tuell
Teacher #2 – Ms. Katie Greene
Parent #1 – Russ Kao
Parent #2 – Marcia
Parent #3 – Sharon M.
Parent #4 – Cynthia
Parent #5 – Carla
None of the participants in my group had heard of, nor had edited a wiki before, except for my
classmate Sharon M.
Teacher # 1 (Mr. Tuell)
I contacted my son’s teacher, Mr. Tuell, to see if I could get some of his handouts as softcopies.
However, he did not have online versions available, so I ended up manually entering the
information. I added Mr. Tuell’s handouts to the Reading, Writing and Spelling pages:
Teacher #2 (Ms. Katie Greene)
I contacted a 4th grade teacher at my son’s school and requested an online document from the
Reading Fluency class that I attended. She sent the document to me right away. It was long
process for me to add the content to the wiki, due to the formatting:
After I added the content, the page was behaving strangely. I believe this is caused by the MS
Word code that I copy-pasted from the teacher’s handout.
Parent #1 (Russ)
I asked my husband to add a link to the wiki. He is a technical writer and I consider him to be web
saavy. He actually had a difficult time adding content to the wiki due to the usability of the PB
editor (he tried adding the link without my assistance, but I ended up helping him). The PB Wiki
tool was not as user-friendly as I had hoped it would be.
Parent #2 (Marcia)
I emailed Marcia, gave a brief description about the Parent Ed wiki, and asked her to contribute a
resource. I suggested the Art page, since she is the Art parent for my son’s classroom.
She added a link, but I visited her house to give her extra help when she got stuck following my
instructions. I had previously sent her instructions on how to add a link, but this was for Windows
using the IE browser. Marcia was using Safari on an IMac and the PB Wiki interface turned out to
This scenario showed that I need to provide instructions for editing on different platforms (e.g.
Firefox on IE, Safari on Mac).
Figure - History shows that Marcia made her edits on the Art page, Oct. 10
Parent #3 (Sharon M.)
I asked my classmate, Sharon M. to add to the wiki. She added some items to the Science page
with Science Project resources. She said that she felt hesitant about adding to the wiki. It didn’t
have anything to do with the technical part, of course - but it was that she didn’t feel “qualified” to
add to the wiki. Maybe because her kids are already college age, and my wiki is mainly targeted
towards parents of K-12 children?
It is helpful to talk to the users about what problems they encounter, and to try to understand their
perspective. This helps me learn how to improve the wiki, and the documentation on how to use
Figure - Sharon M. added the information in the section entitled “Ideas for Science Fair Projects”
Parent #4 (Cynthia)
I emailed Cynthia and asked if she would add a resource, and suggested the parenting articles
page, since she has sent me parenting articles in the past. She was using Firefox on the Mac, but
also experienced trouble. She ended up asking her husband for help. She was able to add the
link, but it was missing a label, so I added that later.
Parent #5 (Carla)
Carla had given us a recipe and I emailed her requesting that she add the recipe to the Parent Ed
wiki. Carla replied to me and said that adding the recipe to the wiki was easy to do and she had
This project was very useful in gathering ideas, and learning more about social networking and
building an online community.
The main difficulties were in creating awareness about the wiki, recruiting people to contribute to
the wiki, and dealing with technical issues while adding content to the wiki.
Most people have very busy schedules, and need a compelling reason to add to the wiki. The
editing process should be very easy and intuitive, or else people will be hesitant to make any
The group of users that I recruited gave positive feedback about the content of the wiki. They
seemed to agree that having a website for teachers and parents to share information was a great
To gather more feedback from the community, I’d like to create a survey (e.g. with
surveymonkey.com), and post it on one of the pages of the wiki. This will help in finding out what
type of content is the most helpful, and what types of problems that the wiki users might be
encountering when using the wiki.
In the future, I believe that the wiki will be useful in promoting school events and parent education