Excel Wiki

I’m thinking of starting a Wiki dedicated to Excel. Actually, I’ve done slightly more than think about it. I’ve put up a few pages at www.xlwiki.com. Check it out this week if you’re looking for something to do.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, a wiki is a content management system that lets anyone edit or create pages. Wikipedia is probably the most famous implementation of a wiki. It’s an encyclopedia where the users create and update the encyclopedic entries. The genius behind a wiki is that it contains the collective wisdom of hundreds of users instead of just one or a few. The downside is that it contains the collective stupidity and bias of hundreds of users instead of just one or a few. Because it’s so wide open, you can get bad information posted to the wiki. In theory, other users see the incorrect information and fix it or delete it. I have no idea how to stop people from continually spamming or what to do when two people disagree on something and keep deleting each other. It will be a learning experience in that regard, but I have the admin password so I’ll be able rule with an iron fist if I have to.

From an Excel standpoint, the benefits of having multiple examples from different sources will be huge. I was thinking primarily about worksheet functions, but of course it applies to any aspect of Excel. Take a function like COUNTIF. There’s a standard, expected use of the function that’s documented in help. Then there’s creative and interesting uses like counting unique values in a list as shown at Chip’s site. A wiki user who had an interesting use of a worksheet function could edit the page to show the use or point to his (or someone else’s) website that shows the use.

I set up a template for creating worksheet function entries. I don’t know if it’s complete or if I’m being really presumptuous in creating that, but those are the things that I’d like to see about a certain function. Some of the information is available from help, but I think it’s necessary to repeat it there to have a complete page. Where a certain function’s page will be more useful than help is in the examples. There will be more “standard” examples and hopefully some nonstandard one’s too. Sometimes the examples in help just don’t match the situation and it would be nice to have more examples.

Also the comments section could have some useful information about, for instance, the pitfalls of using a particular worksheet function. Now I couldn’t quant my way out of a paper bag, but I understand that some of the statistical functions in Excel aren’t quite up to snuff. If you’re a stat freak, that’s not a big deal. If you’re like me and trying to use a stat function that’s over your head, you won’t know that the answers you get are wrong or misleading. The comments section could say “This function returns wrong results if there’s a negative number in the first argument” or “MS used the Johnson method of distributing these values instead of the far superior Smith method.” Of course that’s just gibberish since I don’t know what I’m talking about, but you get the idea.

I’ve settled on TikiWiki as the wiki software. My host, ReviseMedia, has a program called Fantastico that installs other programs. The Wiki programs available were phpWiki and TikiWiki. I started with phpWiki because it looked easier to configure and understand. I couldn’t figure out a way to use images, though. I think being able to use images would be key in a wiki of this nature. So I switched it over to TikiWiki. They both use MySQL back ends, so the few pages I had put up transferred almost seamlessly. There are just a few differences in how to format text which were easily fixed with a find and replace. I’m glad I made the switch because I like the default interface of TikiWiki better. I also looked at MediaWiki, which powers Wikipedia, but it didn’t have an automatic install via Fantastico. It’s not that I’m lazy, I just don’t understand some of the installation instructions. They want me to untar something, then change htaccess. Or I click a button and two minutes later TikiWiki is up and running. Yeah, I think I’ll go with TikiWiki.

There’s still a lot of work to do. I haven’t done any formatting on the site, but I presume that I will be changing from the default at some point. Also, I don’t know exactly how the change monitoring will go. From what I’ve heard about other wikis, a group of people divide up the pages and each one monitors there section to make sure the changes are relevant. I don’t know if that gets set up before hand or if people just fall into that roll. For now I’ll just let people monitor sections they’re interested in and if it’s too unwieldy I’ll recruit some monitors for certain areas.

Let me know what you think of the concept or if you have any suggestions. If you want to try it out, you might start at the WorksheetFunction page, pick a function you like and add some stuff. I believe you have to register to make a change. Also, be sure to click on the Wiki Quick Help tab across the top of the editing page to see how to format the text.

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15 thoughts on “Excel Wiki

  1. I like diversity and therefore welcome new additional channels for communicating about Excel.

    My concern is that the number of available channels may have a negative impact of the quality, i e quality is replaced with quantity.

    Today the number of available Excel-related

    1. Sites increase
    2. Public forums increase
    3. Blogs increase
    4. Wiki is the next coming channel

    Despite the number of global Excel-users the number of frequent posters in all the channels including MSFT newsgroup is still relative small.

    From what I can see this group does not increase in a similar way as the channels tend to do and the number of end-users.

    BTW, in case You give it a try then it will “only” be the second Wiki about Excel:


    Kind regards,

  2. Sige: I’m checking it out now.

    XLD: Of course I tried to get excelwiki.com when I went searching, but it was already taken. When I typed it in the browser, nothing showed up. I figured someone was just squatting that name, but I guess not. It must be fairly new because I think I checked it just a month ago. I’ll have to peruse the site and see what’s there.

    As for your comments on quantity v. quality, I generally agree. Of course *I* only produce high quality stuff. :) Quality is definitely a concern on this new channel, but as ross says, time will tell.

  3. Hi Dick,
    I showed Excel Wiki to Dennis and some of the lads at Ozgrid Forums for feedback in early September. Of course, the first thing they did was to post a link back to your blog. Fortunately/unfortunately Excel consulting has kept me occupied and I have not made the progress I had hoped. Guess it’s time to get busy and see if we can answer the old question “what if we made a wiki and nobody came”.

    Regards, Doug

  4. Hi Dick,

    It might be that Wikis are a good idea because they seem less intimidating for some folk to submit their stuff. Like Dennis says, there seem to be a very large number of “unknown” Excel users, many of whom I am sure have something useful ideas and information to contribute.

    Worst case (at least in theory)is material gets deleted, amended or improved, hopefully with a minimum of fuss :-)

    Another advantage is the ease of finding material. This would be a very big plus for both regular and irregular visitors alike.

  5. Dick,

    After your recent post on the Excel Experts E-Letter, I was rummaging through the archives on j-walk’s site and was reminded of your wiki plan. I hopped over to the wiki. There was a ghostly howl. A mourning bell. A tumbleweed drifted by.

    This is a really great idea, but no-one’s really taking you up on it. I wonder if there is a Catch-22 thing happening here: no-one wants to contribute in case the Wiki is a failure (because they’d have wasted their time) – but unless people contribute, the wiki will be a failure…

    I wonder if you and some of your MVP chums might consider getting together to create some kind of competition to motivate us masses to do stuff? Hey maybe you could get MS to cough up a prize or something?

    Cheers, Graham

  6. Graham: So you’re the one who visited that site. :)
    I don’t expect the wiki to take off right away. I plan to add 2 or 3 pages a week. In a year or so, it should be getting sufficient traffic from Google that some visitors start contributing. That’s when it will get really good. Although a contest is a good idea, maybe I should do that. What’s a good prize?

  7. Rembo: I’ve been switching servers on xlwiki for about a month now. I’m working on it and hope to have it back up this week. I’ll be sure to make a post on this blog when it’s back up.

  8. Why not just post to the Excel section of the Wikipedia? Why create a website to partition it from the encyclopedia itself?

Posting code? Use <pre> tags for VBA and <code> tags for inline.

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