June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // 3TOT1

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Wiki-Based Extension Fact Sheets

This article explains how to build an interactive wiki Web site to facilitate creating, editing, updating, and distribution of online Extension fact sheets. The wiki is built using MediaWiki, the free, open source software used to build Wikipedia. Key features of the wiki include online editing of fact sheets using a Web browser, integration of high-resolution digital images with automatic thumb nailing, and full-text search capability.

Aubrey Moore
University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service & Western Pacific Tropical Research Center

L. Robert Barber, Jr.
Extension Agricultural Economist
University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service

University of Guam
Mangilao, Guam


"Wiki" is a Hawaiian word meaning "quick." A wiki Web site hosts pages that can be quickly created and edited online using a Web browser. While searching for information on the Web, you may have come across articles in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a wiki Web site created to facilitate collaboration on building an online encyclopedia. When this article was written in March 2006, the Wikipedia Web site contained 1,712,885 articles submitted, edited, and updated by 3,989,147 registered users. Click here for current statistics.

Anyone with a Web browser and an Internet connection can view, create, and edit pages on the Wikipedia site. Furthermore, all the software required to build the Wikipedia Web site is open source and can be downloaded and used for free. The software that runs Wikipedia is called MediaWiki. MediaWiki is only one of many software packages for building wikis. However, it is one of the more popular ones. The eXtension initiative uses two wikis built with MediaWiki: the eXtension "About" Wiki and the Communities of Practice Wiki.

In this article, we discuss how we used MediaWiki to build a Web site for the creation, maintenance, and delivery of extension fact sheets for the Agriculture and Natural Resources Program of the University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service.

A Wikipedia article defines a fact sheet as:

A presentation of data on any subject in a format emphasizing brevity, key points of interest or concern, a fairly minimalist design aesthetic, and a general desire to convey the most relevant information in the least amount of space. . . . Though they originated in the offline world of print and paper, fact sheets have come into their own on the Internet, where users tend to seek information in concise formats that can be read in a few minutes or printed on a few pages.

MediaWiki features desirable for creation and delivery of extension fact sheets include:

  • All Web site software is free and open source.

  • Fact sheets can be created and edited using any client computer equipped with an Internet connection and a Web browser. This feature is useful for the University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service, which has a mixed culture of PC and Mac users.

  • Digital images can be uploaded and used in fact sheets. MediaWiki does automatic thumbnailing. When a user clicks on a small thumbnail image, it is enlarged and displayed at a higher resolution to reveal detail. High-resolution images are often essential in online Extension fact sheets, especially those that deal with identification of plants and animals, and the insects and diseases that affect them.

  • Full text search across the whole wiki is provided automatically.

  • Hyperlinks to internal and external Web pages are easily implemented. This feature is particularly useful for referring to online fact sheets from other institutions and hard copy fact sheets or "gray literature" converted to PDF files.

  • All previous versions of pages are saved, providing a permanent archive.

  • Information in a fact sheet can be easily updated whenever our knowledge about crops or pests or treatment recommendations change.

  • Fact sheets can be updated online by any registered user of the wiki with basic computer literacy. This facilitates maintenance and continual improvement of fact sheets through community effort by Extension specialists and other interested parties.

  • Wiki-based fact sheets can be printed on demand, ensuring that up-to-date information is delivered to off-line clients as needed.

Creating a Fact Sheet Template

Instructions in this section need to be done only once to create a reusable template. After installing the Mediawiki as outlined in the Appendix, we developed a template (Figure 1.) to facilitate formatting and outlining fact sheets so that they have a consistent look and feel. The template consists of:

  • A header containing the University of Guam logo. The header is a saved as a separate template (Figure 2.). Changes to this template will appear in all existing and future fact sheets.

  • The fact sheet body includes topic headings and an example digital image acting as a placeholder. All pages created with the template are placed in a category called "FactSheet," allowing MediaWiki to automatically maintain an alphabetic list of all fact sheets on a page entitled "Category:FactSheet."

  • A footer that contains standard disclaimers. The footer is saved as a separate template (Figure 3.). Changes to this template will appear in all existing and future fact sheets.

Next, we created a new page entitled Add or Edit a Fact Sheet. On this page, we placed a form asking for the title of a new or existing fact sheet (Figure 4.).

To make links to the fact sheet template and a list of completed fact sheets available at all times, we edited MediaWiki's sidebar. We opened the page entitled "MediaWiki:Sidebar." Then we clicked on the edit tab and added the last three lines shown in Figure 5.

Figure 1.
Wikitext for a Fact Sheet Template (Template:FactSheet)

Figure 2.
Wikitext for a Fact Sheet Header (Template:Pestfactsheetheader). Note the Use of HTML Code as an Alternative to Wiki Markup.

Figure 3.
Wikitext for a Fact Sheet Footer (Template:FactSheetFooter). Note the Use of HTML Code as an Alternative to Wiki Markup.

Figure 4.
Wikitext for a Form That Creates a New Fact Sheet or Opens an Existing One for Editing. The MediaWiki Extension, "inputbox.php," Must be Installed for This Code to Work.

Figure 5.
WikiText for the "WikiMedia:Sidebar" Page. The Last Three Lines Have Been Added to Provide Easy Access to the Fact Sheet Template and List of Completed Templates.

Using the Fact Sheet Template

The fact sheet template can be used to create a new fact sheet and publish it on the Web within minutes:

  • Click on the "Add/Edit a Fact Sheet" link on the wiki's sidebar.

  • Enter a title for the fact sheet in the form (Figure 6.) and press the button to create it.

  • The new page will appear in edit mode (Figure 7.).

  • Save the new page (Figure 8.) and fill in the details under each heading. Before linking to digital images, these must be uploaded using the "Upload file" link in the toolbox in the wiki's sidebar.

An example of a completed fact sheet is shown in Figure 9.

Figure 6.
This Form Appears When the User Clicks on the "Add/Edit a Fact Sheet" Link in "special tools" Section in the Sidebar.

Figure 7.
Template for the New Chilades pandava Fact Sheet as It Appears in Edit Mode

Figure 8.
Template for the New Chilades pandava Fact Sheet as it Appears in Normal Mode

Figure 9.
Top Part of the Completed Chilades pandava Fact Sheet


Prior to our development of wiki-based fact sheets, the University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service formatted print-based fact sheets using various expensive proprietary software packages. The fact sheets were then printed in limited numbers by commercial printers and distributed to clients until supplies were exhausted. They were rarely updated to reflect changes in current knowledge or control recommendations because of expense.

In contrast, our new wiki-based Extension fact sheets are easy to create, update, and distribute. These are immediately available online to local clients and those on neighboring islands who often face similar problems, such as the arrival new invasive species. We are also able to print fact sheets on demand to those who do not have an Internet connection or computer skills.

Wiki technology is very cost effective and facilitates evolution of sustainable public-access knowledgebases. We hope that use of this technology will result in a continual improvement of fact sheets by our small community of Pacific Island Extension professionals.

Appendix: Installing a Fact Sheet Wiki

Basic Set Up

Detailed instructions for setting up a MediWiki wiki under a variety of computer operating systems can be found at http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Help:OS_specific_help. The authors, who are not "IT professionals", had no difficulty in getting a wiki up and running under Windows XP Professional as follows.

Step 1. Install Apache Web server, PHP interpreter, and MySQL database management system. For our prototype site running under Windows XP, We downloaded and installed "The Saint WAMP" package from http://sourceforge.net/projects/yawamp/ . (WAMP = Windows + Apache + MySQL + PHP).

Step 2. Download and install the MediaWiki package from http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki.

After a few months of testing, we moved our wiki to a commercial Web hosting site called Dreamhost. Installation was very easy because Apache, MySQL, and PHP were preinstalled and a Dreamhost provided a "one-click install" wizard for installing MediaWiki.


Step 1. Download and install the inputbox MediaWiki extension from http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Inputbox.

Step 2. Behavior of the MediaWiki software is largely controlled by code in a PHP script saved in a text file called LocalSettings.php. Make the changes shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10.
Modifications to the Configuration File, LocalSettings.php