Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Web Tools of 2007 - Number 1

PBwiki climbs to the top of the heap this year and is the odds-on favorite to be inducted into the hall of fame next year. One year ago I didn't even have a wiki in my list of Top 12 Tools. They seemed so 2005, so irrelevant in a sea of more flash and more cash. I've been a wiki user since I was first introduced to them, but they just didn't seem to be keeping pace with so many of the other tools that seemed to be the movers and shakers.

Rapid advancements in the functionality of the wiki has moved it back into the status of a must-have tool for me. A couple of years ago you needed to use the goofy wiki language coding to do basic formatting such as bold text, numbered lists, and other such trivial pursuits. Now PBwiki (and other wikis as well) have much more editing functionality with WYSIWIG editors and familiar formatting buttons that allow you to do so much more with any wiki page.

PBwiki was the first wiki I ever used and it is still my first choice in a wiki. The basic wiki service is still free, they are very educator-friendly, and the advancements that they have added to their wiki are totally useful and powerful.

Their tagline is that making a PBwiki is easier than making a peanut butter sandwich (yes, but what about the jelly?). They publish a blog called The Daily Peanut which is a great place to keep up with new developments. They offer premium wikis at a cost somewhat above zero, but the free wikis have been sufficient for all my purposes so far.

Wikis allow for multiple authors and therefore are great collaborative tools. Whether used for group projects, committee work, presentations materials, or simply as an archive of your deepest darkest thoughts; a wiki can be a great way of organizing and keeping things on the web. Any educator trying to maintain a work-related website would be well served to use a wiki rather than trying to manage multiple pages using standard html editor such as Dreamweaver or FrontPage, unless maybe you happen to be an expert in those platforms. Even then, if you want collaborators, a wiki is still the way to go.

The following embedded video is titled Getting Started and features Ramit Sethi of PBwiki:

There are other videos available at You Tube about PBwiki. You can also get good help in their FAQ section or their active Users Forums.

Some of the things they're currently working on include:

  • Easier picture / file insertion.
  • Better inline discussions
  • Spell checker
  • Wiki redirects
  • Single-signon from alternate services (Flickr, Facebook, etc)
  • Alternate file upload venues (FTP, SMB, email)
  • Whitelabel/subdomaining w/admin: *, *
I have created several different PBwikis over the past couple of years for various different purposes. Here are a few of the examples:

My latest creation is one that is not quite finished yet (you can make a case for them never quite being finished). It is a demonstration wiki that shows all (or most) of the possible plug-ins available when using a PBwiki. Some of the plug-ins that you'll see on this wiki include:

  • FrontPage: attaching a document (link to uploaded document), embedding a YouTube video, embedding a slideshow, embedding a live TV player (mine shows the Baseball Channel)
  • Productivity_Plug-ins: any Google Gadget (the Weather Channel is shown, but there are thousands to choose from), a discussion board, any RSS feed that you want to display, a calendar from 30Boxes, a live and active spreadsheet, and a stock chart.
  • PBwikiMagic_Plugins: an equation editor for mathematics, embedding any html code (the example shows an embedded slideshow from SlideShare), recent wiki changes, recent wiki visitors, a table of contents.
  • Chat_plugins: a live chat room (text) or a YackPack walkie-talkie button (live voice chat with anyone else viewing that page.
  • Photos_plugins: a BubbleShare embedded slideshow, an mp3 player from Odeo, another slideshow.

These are the types of things that have brought the wiki back into my web life and the main reason that it has risen to the top of the class for my 2007 list of web tools that are most useful to me.

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