Scott Street - sprusr

Real life wizard and Internet person

Lifewiki: A wiki for your life

I came up with the idea just before Christmas. A hectic term at uni had just come to an end, and I had vowed to never let myself get that busy again. But how could I help manage myself and prevent this kind of horrible exhaustion from happening again? Part of the problem was my inability to keep track of things, which lead to forgetting about stuff I needed to do, and eventually having tasks pile up atop of me. I basically settled on the fact that I needed a second brain to remember all the crap my first one didn’t.

And then the epiphany happened: where does everybody turn when they need some bit of information, or to look up a snippet of general knowledge when they’re on the brink of winning twenty quid and a really hard question comes up on one of those electronic pub quiz machines? Wikipedia of course! What’s to stop me from having my very own, private wiki? The only difference between my solution and Wikipedia would be that instead of holding information about everything, it’d just be things very specific to me.

Lifewiki logo The adorable logo I made for my personal wiki

I toyed around with the idea for a couple of days first, debating inside my head how I should implement such a thing, and eventually settled on writing something with Node and Vue.js - pretty much what I’m familiar with. I set to work with a list of features I wanted to implement, including version history and some kind of custom markup with the ability to include reminders. After a few days work, I was getting towards a nice working prototype, but there was still a lot left to implement for it to be as feature-rich as the likes of Wikipedia. And this was when I realised that what I was doing was a bit stupid.

People use the phrase “why reinvent the wheel”, and I had pretty much started doing exactly that. It made absolutely no sense for me write my own app, when MediaWiki (the software behind Wikipedia) is fully open source and available for anybody to install! Why not just use this pre-existing solution? I made the decision to abandon my efforts up until that point, and just run a fresh MediaWiki install on my hobby server, set up with the requirement that you must have an account to access it.

Lifewiki screenshot MediaWiki does everything I need! (And yep, that’s me…)

I’ve had the wiki running for about 2 months now, and it’s doing a great job in its role as second brain. I use it to keep track of what’s happening with the various projects I’m involved with, to write up lecture notes, and I even started writing a daily journal (something I’d been thinking about doing for a while).

When I occasionally show people that I’m using a wiki as my digital notebook, or (as is more often the case) people glance over at my screen uninvited, most reactions are that of bewilderment. I was surprised myself to learn that personal wikis aren’t very commonplace - perhaps because a wiki is usually associated with open access, something that doesn’t suit personal information very well! Maybe it’s something to consider if you, as I did, rely on a menagerie of notes on Google Keep or similar.

Next steps

I’m nicely settled into my new way of doing things now, and I’m starting to develop nags. For example, Wikipedia has a really great mobile app for viewing and editing wiki pages, but it’s not portable to other self-hosted MediaWiki sites. Whilst writing this, I did discover that the app is, in typical Wikimedia fashion, open source, so I might have a crack at compiling a version for Lifewiki.

I also mentioned above that one of my original feature-wants was the ability to include reminders on pages, inline with the text. Obviously this isn’t something which MediaWiki offers out of the box, nor can I find an extension which offers this. I think the solution here is to have a go a writing my own extension. I don’t know how doable this is for me, nor whether I’ll manage to find the time for it anytime soon, but from what I’ve read so far, extension support in MediaWiki seems pretty good.

I’m going to continue using Lifewiki on a day-to-day basis to keep track of all the things going on in my life, and to make a log of everything I do. If you’re looking for a bit of a change in the way you organise your life, maybe consider a personal wiki to help you out, but remember: no matter how fantastic the software you use is, it can’t do the things you need to do for you!

Feb 25, 2017